Against the flow

YOU do not end up at Nakida Village in the mountains of Naitasiri by accident. Nestled in the eastern foothills of Mount Tomaniivi, where the borders of Naitasiri, Tailevu and Ra provinces converge, Nakida qualifies as one of the most difficult villages in Fiji to reach.

No road reaches Nakida, and until December 2017 there was no piped water either.

Fifty years ago, the people of Nakida returned from Nakorosule, a village hours downstream with which they have strong traditional ties, to their original village site which had been abandoned for several decades because it was inconvenient to get there.

Short of a helicopter ride, to get to Nakida you have two options, both of which involve a soul-testing feat. One way is an hour-long drive to the end of the road at Waitaqa, then another hour-long ride upstream, on a punt powered by an outboard motor, to Wairuarua Village, followed by an epic six-hour journey against the current by bilibili (bamboo raft) or punt on the Waicakena River, a tributary of the Wainimala.

The other option is a long horseback ride of up to six hours on a muddy track through the steamy forest that can drain one’s energy to the bone.

For the uninitiated, getting to Nakida, population around 70, requires not just physical fitness but sheer willpower.

It was in this setting that two Oxfam in Fiji engineers spent several weeks in late 2017 working with the villagers to complete a water and sanitation project that included constructing a five-metre wide dam, a 27,000-litre ferrocement reservoir and the laying of about 1.5 kilometres of piping to each of the 11 houses in the village, which now each have a flush toilet and standpipe. All of the construction materials were taken up by the villagers on raft and horseback.

Funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and supported by Oxfam Australia, the $F372,000 ($A230,555) WaiNiBula project in partnership with Water Authority of Fiji (WAF), supported water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) initiatives in four provinces during 2017.

The WaiNiBula (water is life) project built on previous emergency response work (funded by DFAT, UNICEF Pacific, Oxfam Australia, Oxfam New Zealand and ECHO, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department) and carried out by Oxfam in Fiji and Partners in Community Development (PCDF) in the aftermath of Severe TC Winston in February 2016.

The project targeted some of the areas badly affected by Severe TC Winston; Lomaiviti (Koro Island), Navosa, Naitasiri and Ra.

However, of all the villages where work was carried out, the most laborious to reach both logistically and geographically was Nakida.

Using the results of scoping work previously carried out in Nakida by WAF, Oxfam in Fiji worked with the villagers to design a water reticulation system that would address the problems associated with the lack of safe water sources.

A week before Christmas, I accompanied my two Oxfam in Fiji colleagues who were working with villagers to complete the project before it was commissioned in January 2018.

As part of the Severe TC Winston response, 11 flush latrines were built, while in this phase, a dam was constructed at a spring on a hill above the village, new pipes were laid and connected culminating in the construction of the 27,000 litre tank that gravity-feeds water to the village.

Jovesa Saladoka, Oxfam in Fiji’s country director, said: “The outbreak of water-borne diseases in Fiji is a development issue. It reinforces the need to explore and address the socio-cultural determinants of health — this piece of work reinforces our commitment to work with the Ministry of Health, the WASH Cluster and our rural and far-flung communities in addressing water, hygiene and sanitation woes.

“Our work in Nakida is a case study of tailoring and literally hand-carrying the support where it is most needed. When communities know what their needs are, and when we provide a platform for them to voice their own development priorities and a listening ear to understand their way of weaving a range of solutions to their issues, even immense geographical and logistical challenges will not stop them from getting it done.”

The construction materials required for the project had been transported upstream by the younger villagers, led by the turaga-ni-koro (village headman), Laisenia Senokonoko.

This final batch of materials for the water tank included bags of cement wrapped in cling film to keep them dry, corrugated iron and steel rods loaded onto five bilibili and pulled against the current by a group of about 20 young men and boys with the occasional assistance of a horse at difficult parts of the river.

Mr Senokonoko, 36, and the young men under his charge share an incredible bond, perhaps because they are in the same age group and strengthened by the challenges of living in a village that no road has yet reached.

Everybody had a part to play, including the children, who helped sieve and cart the river sand that was used in the plastering.

“It’s been a long time we’ve been asking for a water tank and we started to believe that it would not happen, so we are thankful to Oxfam for getting it done with us and to the Australian Government for funding it,” said Mr Senokonoko.

A difficult place

It is not surprising that Nakida is a young village with the majority of the population in their 20s and 30s. The challenges of living there and getting to and from the place means that many of the older people have moved down to Nakorosule, where they have traditional links or to live with their children and relatives in urban areas.

If life is hard for the men, for women the burden is even heavier, especially those who are pregnant or new mothers who need to make regular treks to Wairuarua and eventually to Nakorosule for medical checks.

Alumita Tinai, who hails from Nakida, gave birth in October 2017 at Korovou hospital, having made several hours-long trips to the health centre during her pregnancy by raft and by trek.

“Na vanua qo, na vanua dredre,” says Ms Tinai. “This is a difficult place.”

She makes fortnightly trips with her baby daughter, Asinate, through the forest to get to Nakorosule for the girl’s check-up.

Economically and logistically a road may not be viable because of the relatively small numbers of people living in that location. But the villagers believe it is their right to inhabit and till their ancestral lands while at the same time being able to access urban and government services from there, especially if the neighbouring villages already have road access.

Oxfam in Fiji is committed to ending the poverty cycle in Fiji by providing an enabling environment where the economic rights of marginalised groups, such as women, are realised.

“Where regular and safe water sources are not available, women spend a lot more time fetching and managing supplies and as a result are not able to participate fully in economic activities,” Mr Saladoka said.

There are 20 member organisations of the Oxfam International confederation working with partners in over 90 countries to end the injustices that cause poverty.

In the Pacific, Oxfam works in Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and in a cluster of Polynesian and Micronesian countries, supported and co-ordinated by Oxfam in the Pacific, a regional hub based in Suva.

* Ricardo Morris is a media and communications officer with Oxfam in the Pacific based in Suva, Fiji. Any personal views in this article are the author’s and may not necessarily reflect those of Oxfam, DFAT or The Fiji Times.

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