NADAVE, FIJI - Maciu Dela crouches over a partly dismantled chain saw in a workshop at the Center for Appropriate Technology & Development (CATD), where he is acquiring valuable trade skills.
"I've learnt so much in the 6 months I've spent here," he says. "When I finish... I can find a paid job in the city or return to the village to help in maintaining small motors like these."
Dela is one of 40 young men from around Fiji who are learning trades at CATD, a center that would probably not still be running today without an Asian Development Bank (ADB) project loan to improve the regional water supply system.
The project commenced in 2003, when ADB approved a loan of $47 million. A supplementary loan of $23 million followed in 2010.
Before the Suva–Nausori Water Supply and Sewerage Project got under way, residents of the region faced uncertain, unsanitary water supply. Those days are now over.
Dela, his fellow students, CATD trainers, and their families are among the thousands of people who now enjoy regular supply of clean water from their taps at Nadave, a coastal settlement just over 30 kilometers rom Fiji's capital, Suva.
When the project is completed, ADB estimates that more than 330,000 residents in suburbs around Suva and surrounding towns, such as Nausori, will have benefited.
Before the funding, water supply and sewage treatment were overseen by the Public Works Department, which also oversaw roads and most other infrastructure. Establishing the Water Authority of Fiji (WAF) has proved an effective remedy for a host of management, maintenance, and funding issues.
Seven years on, students, such as Dela, can look forward to graduating from CATD with trade certificates—in Dela's case, a certificate in automotive engineering.
As CATD Director Josefani Bola points out, that would likely not have been possible without safe, on-tap water.
"On any given school day, we host 100–200 students with some 40–50 of these staying in our school dormitories, so the need to access a constant and good water supply is critical," he says. "Without water, we obviously cannot keep the center open."
Bola says the benefits could be seen from the moment that WAF workers laid additional water mains in the area in late 2010. The result was improved water pressure."
Before the additional pipes were installed, we used to have issues pumping water up to our reservoir," he says. "Many times, I had to send the school truck to fetch water from the main Waila Water Treatment Plant, some 10 kilometers away."
With the water supply now stabilized, Bola says the center can now pursue long-term plans, including developing its leased 52-acre farm.
"Some neighbors thought we had gone nuts by leasing this swampy, unused piece of land," says Bola. "But we got the Ministry of Agriculture to assist us to build drainage around the property, which now hosts the center's root-crop gardens."
He says the center is now self-sufficient in taro, cassava, and sweet potatoes—staple crops in Fiji—and it no longer has to buy them from the market in town to feed its live-in students.
The center has plans to expand its farming operations, with a dairy farm in the pipeline and a further goal of venturing into aquaculture, in the form of fish and prawn farms.
"Not only will this new project act as a model farm for our students; it will also offer the center food security and a good source of income, as we intend to sell our surplus produce—root crops or fresh milk, fish or prawns."
But Bola still sees challenges ahead, noting that the center will need to find an appropriate donor to partner with so as to develop its training and revenue schemes.
In offering trade skills, such as automotive engineering, arc-welding and fabrication, plumbing and sheet-metal work, carpentry and joinery—not to mention leadership and business entrepreneurship—CATD is playing an important role in developing Fiji's human resources. The majority of its trainees hail from Fiji's rural areas, providing skills training opportunities to youths who would otherwise not get them.
To date, Bola says more than 800 young people have undertaken training, and since the introduction of leadership and entrepreneurship training in 2007, some 270 young men and women have completed the program. A recent audit has shown that many graduates had gone on to successfully establish and operate their own businesses after returning home.
Another beneficiary of the ADB-funded water project is the Mokani Health Center, which serves villages in the area, including students and teachers at CATD. Despite being built on a small hill, water pressure at the health center has been adequate since new water pipes were added in late 2010.
Nurse Vilimaina Drugu says water cuts are now but a distant memory. Meanwhile, she conjectures, judging from illnesses the health center has been treating, that water quality has changed for the better.
"The last time we reported an outbreak of typhoid in this region was August 2010, but we suspect that the disease was contracted from a group that came in from an area in northern Fiji, which has poor water supplies," she says.