A collaborative project between Engineers Without Borders New Zealand and communities in Vanuatu brings fresh water to remote villages.

Since 2008, EWBNZ has been partnering with NGOs and other organisations with established community relationships in New Zealand and the Pacific. An organisation sees where there’s a need and contacts EWBNZ, who’ll put the expertise of their volunteers to work finding solutions.

The recently-completed Wawan Water Project in Vanuatu is a case in point. “A few years ago Engineers Without Borders New Zealand was approached by an Australian volunteer, who was coming to the end of a project building a water supply pipeline for a village called Wilit on remote Ambrym Island in Vanuatu,” says EWBNZ Project Manager Matthew Lillis GIPENZ. “The Wawan Council – the local council in charge of water and sanitation – wanted to extend water supplies to further villages, and the volunteer thought EWBNZ would be well placed to continue the work.”

Civil and environmental engineer Matthew is a project engineer for Hamilton City Council. As an EWBNZ volunteer, he was also the lead project manager who remotely supervised the Wawan Project from New Zealand. Initially, the Wawan Council wanted a pipeline to the other villages, but because there wasn’t an adequate surface water source, EWBNZ and the Wawan Council decided to build four rainfall-harvesting structures, water tanks and reticulation. The project began in 2014. It involved 30–40 people from New Zealand, two remote project managers, about 40 people from the village who helped construct the structures and one EWBNZ site engineer.

The project wasn’t without its challenges and complexities. Site engineer Kyle Richards needed to learn the local language, Bislama, so he could communicate with the local people with whom he worked. Limited internet access was the only way Kyle and Matthew, and the assistant project manager Gina Yukich who was also based in New Zealand, could communicate with each other.

“Every day seemed to throw up a new challenge,” says Matthew. “Materials had to be shipped to a beach sometimes several kilometres from the project site, then rowed to shore and shifted on the back of utes to the site. Alterations to the layout of the structures were difficult to resolve. The villages wanted to reduce the height of the second two rainfall collection structures, and change the direction of the pitch of the roof by 90 degrees – completely changing the direction in which the roof sloped. Altering the pitch would have meant the corrugations in the roofing steel would be going the wrong way to direct water to the gutters, unless we realigned the purlins and rafters by 90 degrees, too. We didn’t have the time to do the substantial new structural design calculations that would have been needed to make that sort of change. Our solution was to chop the design for the structure in half and shift the top half of the structure down, which allowed the guttering to be placed along the wide side of the structure instead of the narrow side. This required minimal structural redesign and met the villagers’ requirements.

We did have difficulty persuading the villagers to do certain things for reasons that weren’t immediately obvious, such as adding additional structural bracing to structures that they saw as comparatively well-built. They had a lot of respect for Kyle by the end of the project, which helped a lot in avoiding shortcuts.”

Source: IPENZ New Zealand