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Funds provided by New Zealand

By Nerys Case RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, January 28, 2011) - At the end of three days of talks, a NZaid team yesterday signed a letter of intent with Minister Teariki Heather to provide NZ$3 million [US$2 million] of funding for a new three-year waste management and sanitation improvement project.

The plan is for the money to speed up changes in septic tanks across Rarotonga and Aitutaki to protect the lagoon from further damage.

The money will fund the formation of a water and sanitation unit in the Ministry of Infrastructure and Planning. A program manager will be brought in from New Zealand to manage the project and the project itself will start in March.

Guy Redding, deputy director of the Pacific division, said, "The key next step is to get the program manager person in place. We are looking for someone from local government in New Zealand who has experience in this area. They will get the water and sanitation unit up and running and then the people at the ministry of infrastructure and planning will start working out the details of when the pilot will start."

Previously sources have confirmed that the pilot project would be in Muri-Avana, but the visiting officials said that the location of the pilot site had not yet been decided by the Cook Islands government.

For NZaid, Julie Affleck said that Muri-Avana was the site of the septic tank survey which was conducted last year, and had not, in fact, been selected as the area for the pilot.

Redding said that a number of homes had already been fitted with the system designed by the CIMRIS team, and the eco-trench system was showing promising results.

The NZ$3 million will go towards a number of things – the creation of a new sanitation policy, an upgrade of sanitary systems in the pilot area, and towards management plans for piggeries.

"We want to work in the sanitation area for the long term. The pilot will have the capacity to be scaled up and rolled out across Rarotonga and Aitutaki based on the feedback we get," said Guy Hawke, director of the Pacific Division at NZaid.

MOIP Minister Teariki Heather said, "The program complements the Cook Islands National Sustainable Development Plan by helping to improve the management of solid, liquid and other forms of waste.

"I am delighted to be able to announce this new program. Improving our lagoon water quality is a top priority for government and we need to move quickly."

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