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''All who can walk have gone home.''

By Margaret Wise

SUVA, Fiji Islands (June 11, 2002 – Fiji Times)---About 280 students from a Kadavu school and 10 patients from the island's only hospital were sent home last Friday because water supply to the area had ceased.

Vunisea Secondary School remained closed yesterday while the hospital has closed the health center and outpatients department. Also affected are residents at the Vunisea government station.

Frustrated parents and civil servants yesterday called on the government to address the water problem, which they claim has been plaguing them since last year.

Nurses on duty at the hospital said there main worry was the two laboring mothers who had turned up yesterday.

Sister in Charge Apikali Lagilagi said dirty linen was also piling up.

"It is a big problem and you need to witness the hardship to know how difficult it is for us. We had to send patients capable of walking back to their homes last Friday,'' Ms. Lagilagi said.

"Right now we have only two bedridden patients. We are managing so far on the water from a creek that's being carted from about half a kilometer away.

"Last year we had similar problems and a new water tank was installed. But something has gone wrong with that tank.''

Fereti Turaga, the president of the school's Parents and Teachers Association, said they were concerned the students' academic performance would be affected.

"It's so unfair to our children. Their school year gets disrupted and they miss school but they are expected to sit for exams and compete with students who are free of such problems,'' Mr. Turaga said.

"Parents are also being penalized when they have to fork out money for the kids’ transport as the students are from all over Kadavu, with 209 boarders. We already don't have enough money.

"Government sends officers from Suva who come and survey the place. We don't want them to come and check. We want them to come and fix the problem.

"Because the station is on a hill, people have to struggle going up and down for the past four days."

Both Health Minister Pita Nacuva and Education Minister Ro Teimumu Kepa referred all queries to their permanent secretaries.

Education permanent secretary Emi Rabukawaqa said the Public Works Department has said that the water supply would be restored today.

Public Works Minister Savenaca Draunidalo said the pipes in the area were old and need to be replaced.

"The problem is that the area has developed very quickly and the population has grown. The demand now exceeds the supply. And we also need to replace the pipes for up to five kilometers. We need to find the money for that so we are looking within. Otherwise, we will have to ask for extra funds,'' Mr. Draunidalo said.

For additional reports from the Fiji Times, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Fiji Times.

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