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Nakavika's water filters

Solomoni Biumaiono
Sunday, January 20, 2013

I had only ventured once into the Namosi Valley on our way down the winding Waidina River in 2009 and back then I had described it as God's own country.

The jagged peaks and big and intimidating rock faces and volcanic plugs stand guard on both sides of this narrow valley.

This is where the Waidina and the Wainikoroiluva rivers part ways, underneath a citrus tree (moli taiti) which is widely known as the moli veitala.

The oranges from the left branches fall and go down the Waidina while the oranges on the right branches fall and float down the Wainikoroiluva River hence the name moli veitala.

My travelling companion is Kim Andersen, the general manager of Rivers Fiji, a river rafting and kayaking company which runs their service in the Wainikoroiluva River and down into the Navua River.

Our visit into the Namosi Valley is to visit a group of engineering students from West Virginia University who are installing water filters in Nakavika Village.

In the air-conditioned comfort of our twin-cab vehicle we discussed what has been happening in this province as word has spread that it perhaps holds one of the richest gold and copper deposits on this side of the Pacific.

Andersen is a qualified geologist and since Namosi is known for its sheer rock faces and rocky geography he put in a bit of explanation of what geological marvels this province has.

Now I fully understand why they call the kai Namosi as kwaca na vatu as this place is really rocky and etching a living from the hanging valleys, steep cliff faces, cascading waterfalls and the number of streams with boulders, not rocks, boulders on the stream beds is really something.

The mark left by Cyclone Evan is still visible, especially near the gravel road, with branches and landslides and I couldn't help but wonder if we might come across the danger of a rockslide.

Just then we crested a hill and Andersen delightfully announced, "Welcome to Fiji's very own Yosemite".

Yosemite is a national park in his US homeland where gigantic granite rocks dominate the landscape and to Andersen Namosi reminds him of that natural wonder.

To Andersen, Namosi is not only a place of business as he has this sense of awe and respect for this place and really, I thought I am talking to one who is more an environmentalist than a geologist.

Even though he has seen the Korobasabasaga Range countless times, he joined me in taking in the view as we were about to descend down the steep road into the Namosi Valley.

Our attention immediately turned to the engineering students and their water filter project as Andersen would like to call it a briefing but with the wonders of Namosi's steep rock face and walls it is a wonder that I absorbed all.

"These are students from the West Virginia University's engineering school and they are part of this organisation called Engineers Without Borders. They have formed their own club in their school and travel to countries to do projects like these.

"This is the second such trip for these engineering students they first came last year to Nakavika Village to install water filters at the village and now they are back to install more water filtration system and also to impart the knowledge of how to build this filter to the local villagers," Andersen added.

The only reason the engineers came to Nakavika was borne from the medical clinics that was carried out by doctors, dentists and residents from the University of Virginia Medical School who came in 2011 and last year.

"These medical clinics were like a triage for the Navua Medical Centre because these doctors come in and after screening patients were able to then tell them if they needed further medical help and some cases were even referred to Suva.

"Anyway one thing they found out is that most of the diseases they diagnosed in these two visits were water-borne diseases and instead of just treating these diseases we have decided to try and find a permanent solution to this and that is how we got in touch with these engineers without borders to come and install these water filters," Andersen said.

Andersen added that one aim the engineers are trying to do is to make this water filtration technology so cheap and easily installed.

"Where villagers can just go and get a 200-litre drum and get the gravel and sand which is readily available at their doorsteps and to create a water filtration system that can allow them to have safe drinking water rather than drinking straight from the river or using rain water.

"You see the area is still very much pristine but since they have started to raise livestock and have farms closer to their water systems, the water is not as pure as it used to be," he said.

Through this talk, we had driven past many villages and villagers who were working in their plantations. Soon we came to a haphazardly built bridge over a narrow river gorge. Obviously this is the gateway to Nakavika Village as well as three other villages on this stretch of the road and without this haphazard bridge, isolated from the rest of the world.

The first man we met was the Nakavika Primary School manager, Keleto Naqurutia, who was in the process of building a water filtration system for the school.

Naqurutia hopes to finish the water filtration before the new school year starts, which is just a day away.

But to him the important thing is that students will have access to clean and safe drinking water and it is an important part of their daily school routine.

There was no sign of the American engineers apart from their tents which were pitched near the main school block and from what Naqurutia said, they had already started working on putting the filtration system in place.

Going into the village, we met Doctor Lance Lin who is one of the lecturers from the West Virginia University. By the way, he is not related to the NBA basketballer and Harvard graduate, Jeremy Lin.

That got us off to a good start and we had a few laughs before he went on to explain a bit about the water filtration units.

"This technology has been around for more than 100 years now, it is nothing new and we have seen that it can be used in places like this because the main parts of it are readily available," he explained.

"The technology just uses sand and different grades of gravel to filter the water before it is passes into another drum where it is stored," Dr Lin said.

Another part of the filtration system is the bacteria but according to the engineering students, this is a thin layer of algae growth that will grow on top of the first layer of sand and help in purifying the water.

"We have already carried out tests on the quality of the water and the results that came back showed that we've met the World Health Organisation standard and that is encouraging," Dr Lin added.

This is Dr Lin's second trip to Nakavika and he said this time round they have received more help from the locals because the people had come to realise the importance of this water filtration system.

"We've already trained some of the locals on how to build this water filtration technology and the best thing is that we're using materials that are readily available locally and my estimation of how much a single unit will cost is $50," he added.

Nakavika acting turaga ni koro (village headman) Abele Vakatawabai said they were thankful to Rivers Fiji for carrying out these kinds of projects in his village.

"Unclean water causes diseases but now we've seen the difference in our lives and in our health. Yes, it has helped us a lot and they have also trained some of our villagers on how to build it," Vakatawabai said.

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