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FEATURE STORYMarch 21, 2023

Not just a water system: How a small remote town is flourishing from access to clean running water at their doorsteps.


  • For many years, the people of Bialla, in Papua New Guinea’s West New Britain Province, have struggled without regular access to clean piped water.
  • A World Bank project has significantly improved life for more than 5,000 people in Bialla, by providing clean and safe drinking water, which has led to improved health, and a big boost in school attendance especially for girls.
  • The project is supporting local authorities to bring clean water to tens of thousands of people in six towns across Papua New Guinea.

Bialla is a small bustling town located around 100 kilometers (63 miles) north of Kimbe, in Papua New Guinea (PNG)’s West New Britain Province, relatively close to the now-dormant Mount Ulawun, known to have been one of the most hazardous volcanoes in the world.

The town is home to more than 13,000 people; a number that is growing as more people arrive from other parts of the country searching for job opportunities due to the area’s growing palm oil industry. 

Aerial shot of Bialla Town

Through the World Bank-supported PNG Water Supply and Sanitation Development Project, over 5,000 residents in Bialla – now have access to a consistent water supply.

(Jeremy Mark/World Bank)

In 2020, through the Water Supply and Sanitation Development Project, Bialla was the first remote town to have a water supply system installed. Today over 5,000 residents, the health center, school and local market have clean running water conveniently available for residents.

But more than just a new water supply system, the quality of life for residents has significantly improved, as confirmed by the lowered number of water-borne disease outbreaks, improvement in general hygiene and increase in students attending school.

png wash mrs kausa

Mrs. Kausa is a teacher at the Bialla Primary School and has lived with her family in the small remote town for over 45 years. She is one of over 5000 people now accessing clean running water at their doorsteps from a new water supply system installed in 2020 under the Water Supply and Sanitation Development Project.

(Jeremy Mark/World Bank)

Like most remote towns in the country, the people of Bialla have struggled, for many years, for access to many basic necessities of life; particularly access to clean drinking water and proper toilets. The impacts – on health, on education and on everyday life – were immense.

For many families in Bialla where dry season can last for many months, the humble plastic container was a lifeline then.


Then (2017): before the new water supply system was installed for Bialla, families would make the journey to the Tiauru River – approximately about an hour's walk – to collect drinking water.

(Ruth Moiam/World Bank)

Yet today, driving into the township, the formerly-common sight of the main road filled with women, and children of school age, carrying huge water containers making the strenuous journey to the closest fresh water source – the Tiauru River – to collect water is no more.

At the local Maimoli Health Center, plenty of infrastructure is still in need of repair, but the water taps that for years sat idle are now gushing out clean running water, when the tap is turned.

“The positive impact on the health front has been tremendous,” says James Managen, Officer in Charge of the health center for the past two decades. “We have seen a major decrease in water-borne diseases among patients and a big improvement to the general hygiene of staff and patients at the center since the new water supply system was installed.”

It is the same story at the local school, home to more than 700 students.

“Two years back, we would close the school for days due to the school’s rainwater catchments running dry,” says Mr. Obert Sau, the deputy head teacher. “Dry seasons in Bialla also meant students – particularly girls – missed school frequently to help with house chores; especially fetching water for their families. Our dropout rate for students was high, and access to a basic right like clean running water was a key factor disrupting their education.

“Now, we’re heading into the dry season again, but as you can see, all of our classrooms are full of students.

Bialla PNG Water

Before the installation of the water supply system, many students – especially women and girls – were having to skip school to instead travel long distances to fetch drinking water for their families at the Tiauru River.


(Jeremy Mark/World Bank)

Bialla is one of six towns across PNG receiving support through the US$70 million (PGK223 million) World Bank-financed project which aims to provide access to clean and reliable water supply services for tens of thousands of people.

Danny Aka, Water PNG’s representative in Bialla, says the community has really embraced the new water supply system.

“Bialla recorded the highest tariff collection in the last few months, which is a clear reflection of people’s willingness to pay for services they consider vital to their well-being,” says Danny.

Water PNG is now working with the local authorities to plan wastewater disposal for the remote town.

png wash danny

Danny is the officer in charge of Water PNG’s operations in Bialla, and one of the most respected people in the small remote town. Over the last two years, Danny has helped to connect and manage over 400 homes to the new water supply system set up for the town under the World Bank-supported Water Supply and Sanitation Development Project.

(Jeremy Mark/World Bank)

“We’ve always known that a central element to good health and well-being for our people was access to safe drinking water,” said Rolland Paponurea, the District Administrator for Bialla. “It has been refreshing to see the impact the new water supply system has had on our community.”

The Water Supply and Sanitation Development Project also includes education programs aimed at strengthening healthy hygiene habits. It is being delivered through the PNG Department of National Planning & Monitoring and Water PNG as part of the Government of Papua New Guinea’s Water, Sanitation & Hygiene (WaSH) Policy.

The project is supported through a US$70 million credit through the International Development Association (IDA) – the World Bank’s fund for the world’s most in-need countries, in addition to a US$7 million contribution from the Government of PNG.


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