18 Oct
Posted in: Humanitarian
By    Comments Off on Humanitarian Projects – often about doing it smarter

Humanitarian Projects – often about doing it smarter

Anyone that knows me well, will know of my association with the beautiful island of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. I spent many of my formative years there, and still regard it, as much as, if not more so, as home. My life there was as a result of my father, Paul Quodling, O.B.E. serving in a variety of roles, but ultimately as the Managing Director of the Bougainville Copper Mining Operation. It is well known that therewas an uprising and civil war on Bougainville – while the Mine was used as a mechanism in the conflict, it was a pawn, in the process as the main disagreement, was about money, in that the Central Government of PNG was making significant tax revenue from the mine, but returning very little of it to the people of Bougainville, rather using it as a Country Development fund fro the rest of PNG. While constrained by the rules of law, my father did everything he could to make sure that there was still local benefit. These included the implmentation of a trade training school (Certification from which, still ranks as one of the “higher” accreditations recognized within PNG), through to setting up the Panguna Development Foundation, which underwrote many local businesses to be developed (even though a number of them were never actually profitable).

It is, in part in honor of the efforts of my father that I maintain an involvement in Bougainville. I have some very close personal friends who are Bougainvilleans, and believe that I have earnt their trust and respect just as my father did.

I am a “big picture” type of person and as such, whenever I see a problem, I also see a solution, so when I was talking with my friend  Sione Pa’Asia, son of the traditional chief of the Mortlock Islands, about problems there, my mind quickly slipped into gear.

The Mortlocks are a small atoll of islands over 200 kms off the coast of mainland Bougainville. There is a population of some 1200-2000 people there, mostly of Polynesian descent, even though Bougainville is Melanesian in it’s population. They live a simple life, eating fish, coconut and Taro, and if they are lucky a ship will visit with other goods once or twice a year.

Recently, there has been concern about salinity of the soil. It is argued that the sea levels are rising as a result of Global Warming, it has also been suggested that the islands are sinking for Geological reasons. I am not here to debate that, what immediately struck me, was the reduction in the available food for the people. This was also compounded by the comment that Sione made, that people were dying and, more often than not from relatively basic ailments. The treatment of these was suffering from the fact that there are no qualified medical personnel on the islands (the islanders have been looking for sometime for aid to send some of their people for medical training, but that has fallen on deaf ears).

But, I noticed that many of the ailments that he spoke of were in part as a result of dietary factors. Lack of consumption of fruits, green leafy vegetables, and all of those things that our mums insists that we have lots of.  There has been some “Aid” from, I believe both the PNG government and Ausaid, but this has been restricted to nothing more than shipping Rice to the island, when it is possible.

About that time, I was watching a documentary about the d’Vineripe company  building a $30M tomato greenhouse at Two Wells, near Adelaide, using Hydroponics. I also saw mention of the fact that during the antarctic winter, staff at the McMurdo Base, grow fresh vegetables in a hydroponics lab, sufficient for a few meals a week for a few hundred staff.

It struck me, that an island, just south of the Equator, with plenty of sunshine, lots of water (albeit salt), should be able to sustain a Hydroponics Operation.

So, what is needed for this process.

1. It’s important to understand the “mix” of foods needed – as such it would be appropriate to send medical staff there to assess the condition of the people and what ails them, and as such work out what is needed to improve their diet. Of course, while these people are there, they can be providing basic training and perhaps medicines and equipment for a local group of Paramedics.

2. Fresh Water. Yes, the Mortlocks are surrounded by an Ocean of Salt water. Desalination is the best thing to do, here. I started researching desalination. While it would be feasible to possibly build a passive (i.e. driven by Sunlight) desalination plant, it would be low volume. The Water “Problem” really struck home, when I asked Sione how much water they had there. He recalls a 5,000 litre tank that is fed by Rainwater runoff from the small school house. Needless to say, making more fresh water rather than “just enough”, would have great benefit to the local community.

Finding a source of desalination,  I was inspired by stories of Unicef’s Efforts in the Maldives, after the Indian Ocean Tsunami. They had delivered 23 Portable Desalination Plants (each about the size of a box-trainer) and each costing about USD 75,000 designed and built by an Israeli company, and capable of producing around 10,000 litres of fresh water in an 8 hour cycle.  Compared to what the Mortlocks have, this was “Mind-blowing”.

Of course, the thing to do was to have “storage” but then, given that one can get 30,000 litre tanks of various materials here in Australia, that shouldn’t be an issue.

Logically if we can procure these desal machines, it makes more sense to have say, three running in parallel for two hours a day.(Less wear and tear). These machines are typically run on diesel, but there has been great success on bougainville producing a viable biodiesel from Coconuts, and the Morlocks have plenty of those (Modification of Engines may be necessary).

3. The next factor is nutrients. There are several potential sources for this. The most northern of the islands in the Atoll is known as “Bird island”  for obvious reasons… It is a natural source of Guano, a natural fertiziler, equally there are plenty of fish in the oceans and fishmeal can provide some appropriate nutrients to the growing process. Finally, I asked Sione, what happens to Human Waste – it “feeds the fishes” was the response. With some level of processing, this could be turned into a viable fertilizer source.

4. What is left? Plumbing, construction, instruction, and seed stock for propogation.

I haven’t done a detailed “Bill of Materials” for this, but in the order of $500,000 would see it all well established and operational. When compared to the $5,000,000 of Rice that is distributed each year, it seems to be a whole bunch smarter.

But, the best laid plans of mice and men. I have run this past PNG government officials, Australian Government Officials (with Pacific Island responsibility) and anyone else that will listen. If perchance, you a) foudn my blog, b) foudn this article, and c) know of Philanthropic Sources (or even pro-bono expertise in hydraulics, diesel engines, Medicine, or hydroponics, not to mention access to Shipping in the area, please let me know. The people of the Mortlocks would be eternally grateful.

Comments are closed.