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FEATURE STORY March 20, 2018

Papua New Guinea: Clean Water Access to End the Walk for Water for Women and Girls


  • In Papua New Guinea, only 40% of people have access to safe drinking water, one of the lowest rates in the Pacific Islands.
  • Women and girls of school age generally assume the burden of water collection for their families.
  • A new project will provide clean water access for tens of thousands of people bringing connections right to their doorsteps.

Bialla, West New Britain, Papua New Guinea, March 20, 2018 – For most families in the remote district of Bialla, in Papua New Guinea (PNG)’s West New Britain Province, where the dry season can last for many months, the humble plastic container can be a lifeline.

In this small town, owning a good number of plastic containers is essential for families living far from a water source because they are durable and importantly, relatively lightweight for carrying.

Bialla is a small district, 21 kilometers (13 miles) north of the provincial capital of Kimbe, in PNG’s north-east. It is home to around 13,000 people and, like most remote towns in PNG, the people of Bialla struggle for access to many basic necessities of life; particularly access to clean drinking water and proper toilets.

The strain on health care

The lack of access to clean water is a constant challenge for the delivery of essential services to the people of Bialla.

“Our biggest problem, aside from shortages of medical supplies, is not having access to clean running water and proper toilets here at the center,” said Sister Mangaea from the Bialla Health Center, which serves the entire population of the district. “Sometimes when there’s no water at the center, we tell pregnant mothers to bring their own water for use during delivery.”

While an underground water bore was built for the health center in 2015, it only supplies clean water to two outdoor tanks, which all staff and patients rely on.

The lack of proper toilets at the health center is also a major issue. There are just two pit toilets to serve staff and patients including children at the center each day. Both are more than 20 meters (65 feet) walk away; an enormous challenge for those with an illness or disability.

“Women struggle the most from the lack of adequate sanitation,” explained Sister Mangaea. “They wait hours for nightfall; just to have privacy to use the toilet. This impacts their health and puts their safety at risk.”


"Sometimes when there’s no water at the center, we tell pregnant mothers to bring their own water for use during delivery"
Sister Mangaea
Bialla Health Center Worker


The World Bank

Women and girls bear the biggest burden

In many communities in PNG, women and school age girls are responsible for collecting water for their families. They walk long distances often across steep hills and rugged terrain carrying heavy water containers back and forth to their community.

For 13-year old Rendela, who attends the Bialla primary school, this walk is just an unfortunate part of her daily life.

Rendela’s family, like most others, has several 20-liter plastic water containers stored in their kitchen and bathing area. Previously used for storing lard, fuel and farming chemicals, these large containers have become much-valued necessities for families in the community.  

On school days, Rendela wakes as early as six in the morning, collects her family’s empty water containers and rides in the back of a truck for an hour to the Tiraua River; a pristine river that has become a lifeline for her family.   

“My house is a close walking distance from school but most days I’m late because I have to travel a fair distance to the river to fetch water and have my bath,” explains Rendela.

Returning from the river, Rendela then carries at least three huge plastic containers from the main road to her house; a journey that is all too common for girls her age in Bialla.

During the dry season water collection typically takes two hours, but up to four or five hours for some households due to distance and waiting time. To avoid the heat during the day, some women and girls collect water late in the afternoon, or very early in the morning, thus putting themselves at risk of violence.

Women and girls like Rendela are also carrying heavy loads of water: often up to 30 kilograms at one time. Aside from immediate back pain and tiredness, frequent carrying of loads has long term health implications.

Bringing water to the community

Under the PNG Water and Sanitation Development Project, homes like Rendela’s will soon have access to a new water supply system, bringing connections right to their doorsteps.

The US$70 million (PGK223 million) World Bank-supported project covers nine provincial towns and 10 rural districts across PNG, delivering access to clean and reliable water supply services for tens of thousands of people across the country.

The project is being delivered through the PNG Department of National Planning & Monitoring and Water PNG, and also supports the implementation of the Government of PNG’s Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WaSH) Policy, which includes education programs aimed at increasing healthy hygiene habits, such as handwashing.

For the township of Bialla, clean running water will be sourced from the existing bore well at the health center, and distributed throughout the town using a small-town water supply system.

For 13-year old Rendala, the prospect of clean, piped running water running through her town is exciting.

“It will make me happy to have clean water from a pipe available at home,” says Rendela, with a smile. “It means that I don’t have to miss school, and I can spend more time with my friends.”

The PNG Water Supply and Sanitation Development Project is funded through the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the world’s most in-need countries.