And Not a Drop To Drink

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Water is the stuff of life. You can live without food for a long time, but you’ll soon sicken without H²O.

The recent sorry state of affairs in Madang brings to light a chain of events that could have precipitated a serious public health problem. As it was, it was a severe inconvenience for nearly all residents and businesses. It should never have happened. It is a tale of negligence, mismanagement, and possible criminal activity.

For three days anyone who depended on the town water supply was out of water and out of luck getting any. What led to this very serious situation?

You have to go back to the beginning to understand.

When the public water system was rolled out, many who formerly depended on large rainwater catchment tanks stopped maintaining them. Turn on a tap – the water comes out. What more do you need? After all, you are now paying your hard-earned cash to the Water Board to take care of that, so why should you waste money maintaining a backup system? This reveals a common human fault: trusting people to do their jobs. That error can get you into dire straits.

Now we bring into the story the type of hare-brained person (or persons) who set a fire to watch it burn and then walk away without any consideration concerning where that fire might find more life-giving fuel. This most ill conceived fire, ignited by persons unknown, found a tasty power pole carrying energy to the pumping station for the town water supply.

It is, at the very least, negligent and potentially dangerous to light a fire that you do not plan to tend. This is not rocket science. We’ve been doing this since the Stone Age. We should have caught onto this fact by now. And it is, in this country, a criminal act. Those who light such fires and cause damage can be held civilly and criminally responsible. It is also illegal to set fire to a public tree, but practically nobody pays any attention to that. Look at the sad state of our beautiful rain trees that once lined Coronation Drive.

The pole went down, the power went off, the pumps went silent as stone, the reservoir drained, and you are out of luck when you come home from work for a shower. What are you going to do if you need to use the toilet – and believe me; you will need to most urgently when you suddenly realize that the absence of a working tap within bucket-carrying distance of your house is a serious matter.

You start to get angry as you squat in the bushes like a dog.

For the next chapter we have to get back into the time machine and flit to the past again.

Three years ago the Water Board told the Madang Chamber of Commerce and Industry that it would put out for tender the installation of a backup generator to protect the safety and well-being of the rate payers of Madang. Well, that sounds promising – progress – at last! Surprise, surprise – the contract has never been offered for tender. The promise is still there on the table. The need is obvious. Who is responsible for this laxity? What if the good citizens of Madang suddenly took it in their heads to hold that person or persons accountable? Wouldn’t that be a good thing? What would constitute a suitable chastisement?

So, now we’re back to where we started – no water.

I went over to get some more medical supplies for our vet-damaged dog, Sheba (a story about that some other time). Poor Greg was going nuts. He told me he was waiting with dread for the masses of sick people to inundate his shop with complaints arising because of the lack of safe water. Falling into the category of “Stop laughing, this is not funny”, he also said in a near whisper, “I don’t have any place to send my staff for a toilet break.”

As is my wont, my brain sought the simplest response. I said, “Send them over to our office. We still have water tanks.” With Greg still bleeding gratitude, I returned to my office.

In the meanwhile, the PNG Power guys discovered damage to an underground power cable (apparently unrelated to the fire). It took them a while to fix that with a temporary hook-up to revive the pumps.

The next day, a few of the Chemcare staff showed up at our door and it was no big deal for us. We all know each other. “Oh, you’re here to use the toilet. Come on in.” It feels good to help when you can.

Later the same day the water returned. It took a while to get to town. It had been promised mid-day, but managers were unreachable for further complaints, so we just had to hop on one leg and wait. The water seeped into most parts of town around mid-afternoon. Sighs of relief could be heard as far away as Nobnob.

At this point, I’ll end my tirade and tell you that this story had a happy ending for a few people. The day after the water came back one of Greg’s staff showed up at our office door with a rather large box. Inside was this:

Greg’s cake of gratitude

With all that Greg has to put up with, he managed to get a one-off cake baked, decorated, and delivered by morning tea as a thank-you for a simple kindness.

What a guy!

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2 Responses to “And Not a Drop To Drink”

  1. Nestor Says:

    С прошедшим новым и наступающим старым НГ. Пусть бык бодает ваших конкурентов

  2. admin Says:

    First comment that I’ve received in Russian!

    It must be some kind of commercial spam which I usually just delete.

    However, I translated it first. As near as I can tell, it says: “With passed new and advancing old NG. Let the bull butt your competitors.”

    I wonder what that is supposed to mean?