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Papua New Guinea

Water for Conservation

The Conservancy has been working with communities in Papua New Guinea for over 10 years.

By Margaret Southern

Imagine that this is your day’s to-do list: Boil water for breakfast tea, wash the dishes, tend to the garden, prepare dinner, and bathe the children.

It doesn’t sound too out of the ordinary. But now imagine that the closest source of water isn’t your kitchen sink, but a stream more than a mile downhill. That makes the list sound a little more daunting. In the dry season, those tasks might be nearly impossible. 

The Nature Conservancy is helping conservation-minded communities in Papua New Guinea ensure close access to clean water year-round.

A Thirst for Water 

For more than 10 years, The Conservancy has been working with communities in the Adelbert Mountains range of Papua New Guinea to help conserve their land rather than see it unsustainably logged for a short-term profit.

Along with the Almami local level government, the Conservancy helped create conservation legislation that allows local landowners to develop land use and management plans. Many landowners chose to set aside large areas for conservation in exchange for the Conservancy’s assistance in developing these plans and obtaining sustainable development benefits to improve their livelihoods.

The community members have a long list of services they’d like to receive: better education, access to health care, and road maintenance, among others. However, emerging at the top of the list was a need for clean water. 

“Here there are periods of really long dry season where we don’t have enough water,” Phillip Nema of the Avipa Village says. “A few years ago we had had to dig for water. Traditionally we had rainmakers that might have helped, but we are losing those traditions.” In 2007, with help from the Conservancy, four communities secured a grant for rainwater collection tanks. These massive tanks will ensure that the villagers have access to water through the dry season, and keep the women from having to walk to a water source to fetch water year-round. 

“This new water supply has helped us because now we don’t have to go down mountains to get water, which is very tiring,” Mata John, a local women’s leader in the Adelberts. “Now we have time to do other household activities that are important for our community.” 

Conservation Planning 

During the conservation planning process, community members began to realize the importance of protecting rare and endemic species that have been disappearing due to human threats. Each community created its own land use and management plan, determining which areas could be used for farming, growing cash crops, hunting, and gathering building materials and which areas could be designated for conservation. 

Nema admitted that some people in his village were skeptical about the help the Conservancy was offering, but the assistance in designing the land use management plan changed their minds. 

“It was the process that led to the land use management plan that made the difference,” Nema says. “We saw there was a way to manage the land. Our ancestors had a way of using the resources that made sure there was something for the future and we would be doing the same.” 

But it quickly became clear that tangible benefits would be needed to make this conservation last.  

Bringing Communities Together 

That’s when the Conservancy began work to help establish the Adelberts Cooperative Society, a coalition of local cocoa growers who have developed land use and management plans. In 2010, the Adelberts Cooperative Society obtained Fair Trade certification, qualifying its cocoa for the global Fair Trade cocoa market and the attendant prospect of price premiums for individual growers and the cooperative as a whole. 

In addition to increased funds for community development, the process of working together to establish the cooperative has brought other benefits—like the water collection tanks. 

The collaboration of previously divided clans and villages to form the Cooperative led to a joint proposal to the European Union for a small grant to purchase the tanks. The Conservancy informed villagers of the opportunity and worked with cooperative members to complete and submit a proposal. 

Now, the water tanks are ensuring a steady supply of clean water that’s shared by clans and villages. “This new water supply has helped the community mothers and children. It gives us water with better taste and better quality, free from sickness,” Catherine Robyn, a local women’s youth leader, says. 

Our work to grow Cooperative membership and connect local cocoa farmers with international markets continues in an effort to attract a consistent revenue source that will help finance the communities’ ongoing development needs. 

Margaret Southern is a writer/editor for the Conservancy's Global Content Development Team. 

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