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Thursday, 30 September 1993
Page: 1613

(Question No. 469)

Senator Coulter asked the Minister representing the Minister for Development Cooperation and Pacific Island Affairs, upon notice, on 17 August 1993:

(1)What is the extent of bilateral aid by Australia to the Republic of Kiribati in 1991, 1992, 1993?

(2)Does the aid include a survey of the sewage disposal problems in the atoll of Tarawa south?

(3)What options are being considered to deal with sewage which is causing massive health problems and polluting the lagoon?

(4)If a water borne system is being considered, how will the sewage be disposed of and in what way will it be treated prior to disposal?

(5)What is the likely capital and recurrent costs, including the provision of a sea water flushing supply, for such a system?

(6)What environmental studies will be done to assess the possible effects of a water borne system with discharge to the ocean?

(7)Given that much of the diet of the people of the island consists of fish and many fish inhabit the edge of the reef, what will the effect of a sewage discharge on the fish and subsequent health of the people?

(8)Have other systems of sewage disposal been examined, such as composting. If not, why not?

(9)Is the Government aware that several Australian designed and manufactured composting toilet systems have already been sold overseas?

(10)Have any of these been considered and cost comparisons been made, bearing in mind that any water borne system in the atolls will also require a sea water supply system with its heavy costs of maintenance?

(11)Does the Government see that the encouragement of composting toilets will help a new industry with export potential and which, in turn, is prepared to help with technology transfers to Pacific neighbours?

Senator Gareth Evans —The Minister for Development Cooperation and Pacific Islands Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

  (1) The aid program follows a financial year funding arrangement. Expenditure on bilateral aid to Kiribati for the last three financial years has been:

1990/91—$2.4 million

1991/92—$3.5 million

1992/93—$4.3 million

(2)The performance of three ocean outfalls was investigated in 1985 by Consulting Environmental Engineers of the NSW Region of the Department of Housing and Construction, and in June 1993 the Australian International Development Assistance Bureau (AIDAB) conducted a field appraisal of the South Tarawa Sanitation Project being developed by the Government of Kiribati (GOK). The appraisal concluded that it would not be possible to provide assistance until a comprehensive multidisciplinary approach to encompass all health issues is developed in Kiribati and all inputs are co-ordinated under this approach to achieve an effective and sustainable improvement in health conditions.

  (3) Tests show that the sewage disposal from the present sewerage system is not the most likely cause of the health problems on South Tarawa The present salt water flushing system empties into the sea through discharge outfalls via pumped reticulated sewerage mains. The zone of influence of the discharge on the bacteriological quality of the water at the reef edge extends less than 100 metres. Faecal coliform levels beyond 100m from the outfalls very seldom exceed 200 org/100 ml, the accepted safe standard established by the United States Environmental Protection Agency for recreation and bathing waters.

  The problems of health and pollution, however, are due more to population pressures and persistence with traditional methods of waste disposal, rather than to technical deficiencies in the sanitation systems.

  Options for dealing with the remaining sewage problems on South Tarawa will only be considered as part of a program which addresses the overall critical health situation.

  (4) Extension of the present water borne system is one measure under consideration and options for treatment will be considered within that context. Sewage in the present system is not treated before discharge at the ocean outfalls and this has not caused significant problems (see response 3).

  (5) The costs of upgrading and extending the present system have not been estimated at this stage since such work is only one aspect of a possible GOK integrated development program addressing the total health spectrum on South Tarawa This program is at a very early stage of consideration and does not yet have the full approval and support of the GOK.

  (6) The present system has been tested and found to be operating within acceptable coliform levels. The bulk of pollutants and other causes of the critical health situation are considered to arise from population pressures in non-sewered areas and not from the sewerage system as such. Should the GOK request the development of a program of Australian assistance to address the full range of health issues on South Tarawa, environmental studies will be conducted as mandatory aspects of AIDAB project development.

  (7) See response 6. AIDAB is not aware of data that allows an assessment of how and to what extent fish at the reef edge are polluted.

  (8) Yes, but only in the broader context of the AIDAB appraisal (June 1993) which examined the full spectrum of health issues on South Tarawa; including water supply and sewerage systems, waste disposal in non-sewered areas, solid waste disposal, health education and population aspects. Alternative sewerage systems were considered within this general approach.

  (9) Yes.

  (10) Not as yet, since the Government through AIDAB has not had a formal request from the GOK to undertake a program of activities which would address the full spectrum of health and population issues on South Tarawa

  (11) Yes. Should GOK request assistance with the full spectrum of health issues, AIDAB will ensure that the sewerage system utilised will be the most appropriate, bearing in mind the cultural, physical, budgetary and political constraints to implementation. Composting toilets will be examined as part of such a comprehensive solution. Australian suppliers for AIDAB projects are invited through the normal free and open tendering process. When new equipment is provided it is normal practice to also provide technical assistance to facilitate operation and maintenance.