Mangaia Island Eyes Further Self-Sufficiency

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MP: islanders can’t wait on government promises anymore

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Radio New Zealand International, Nov. 7, 2013) – After years of promised development from outside groups, but little follow through, people on the island of Mangaia in the Cook Islands are finding ways to become more self-sufficient.

Leaders on Mangaia have been encouraging communities to stop waiting for central government or donors to help, and to take action themselves.

Leilani Momoisea reports:

On Mangaia, a major problem people are faced with is a lack of water and water infrastructure. With very little rain, water tanks are near empty and other water sources are hard to come by. An MP and member of the Mangaia Island Council, Tangi Matapo, says her village Tamarua, had been assured by central government that it would receive funding for water. She says help never came, and they realise they can’t rely on the government anymore.

"TANGI MATAPO: We have to look at ourselves now and look at what resources we have. When we are promised something, there is a lot of waiting, you have to wait and wait. And we have come to the stage that we can’t wait anymore."

The mayor of Mangaia, Tere Atariki, says central government had earmarked about $800,000 for a major water project for the island, but the money disappeared. He says, frustrated with waiting, they found their own solution.

"TERE ATARIKI: The public utility with the water works and energy people, they’ve come up with this bright idea. We’ve got some of the bits and pieces of pipes and pumps, so they put it together and there we go, we’ve got our water system going. I think it costs around about $600,000 from our own resources."

The executive officer of the Mangaia island government, Ngametua College, says there is a lot of pressure put on the people to look for alternatives to survive. He says what’s really disappointed people is that so much has been promised, but so little delivered, and it illustrates how important it is for the island to take ownership of its own matters.

"NGAMETUA COLLEGE: Not to rely so much on governments, that’s the message the island government is giving out to our people, not to rely, or not to wait, but to find some alternatives to do something, to do some very important projects that helps us."

Mayor Tere Atariki says central government’s promised water project was also supposed to help with agriculture, to provide enough water to grow vegetables on the island. He says the island is too dry to grow vegetables, so they have their own solution, that will also help the local economy.

"TERE ATARIKI: We have grown maybe over 30,000 plants of vanilla on the island, pineapple and dragon fruit, that doesn’t really need much water, so that we can generate income. I said to them, so that you own it, instead of relying on the outside."

Tangi Matapo says just last week the whole island completed workshops that required each village to set plans for the future.

"TANGI MATAPO: So we have finished that first cycle of working towards a sustainable island plan for Mangaia. So that’s what we decided, that we had to do something. So people have spoken on what they need and then we look at what we have on the island to start off with, and then we can work around that."

The Mangaia island government says there are still more water solutions and projects that need to be put in place, but they are finding ways to generate their own income to fund this.

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