From 2012 to 2020, the Nuku’alofa Urban Development Sector Project (NUDSP) received funding from ADB ($6.06 million) and the governments of Australia ($7.45 million) and Tonga ($2.03 million).
According to Tukua Tonga, Chief Operating Officer (COO), National Spatial Planning Agency Office (NSPAO)/Project Manager, NUDSP, transparent consultations conducted with local stakeholders made them appreciate the role of urban and environmental planning in development. “Open dialogue with the project encouraged the local communities to take ownership of their environment, look after it, prevent the deterioration of infrastructure, and work in general towards a cleaner and greener Tonga.”
He asserted that “a capital city with a clean and beautiful environment benefits all the people of Tonga".
For Malakai Sika, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Waste Authority Limited (WAL), the mistakes of the past should not be repeated. He still remembers the former surroundings of Nuku'alofa where a lot of trash and debris were lying around.
“It was a normal sight wherever you went. But we are now seeing a ‘new normal’ due to the higher standards for a green environment. Everyone is on their feet nowadays when it comes to trash, picking up and disposing them properly,” he said.
“There is a big change in the attitude of people, and the results are visible,” Sika added. “We have become a lot more different from the old days.”
NUDSP helped turn an urban vision into solutions that would raise living standards and promote sustainable development in the Kingdom of Tonga. It gave support to the key priorities identified in the Nuku'alofa Urban Infrastructure Development Plan—namely urban water supply, sanitation, and green spaces to mitigate climate change and provide aesthetic pleasures for the enjoyment of residents and visitors.
Rapid urbanization and population growth had severely stressed the water supply and sanitation infrastructure of Nuku'alofa that by 2011, they were no longer sufficient to meet long-term needs. Climate change also posed a threat to Tonga’s water sources. Resulting water scarcity endangered public health because of poor sanitation. Uncollected garbage, on the other hand, could clog waterways and spread infections.
Residents also complained about the poor service. “Our customers particularly those living on higher ground could not access water during peak consumption hours in the early morning,” said Elisiva Tapueluelu, Deputy CEO, Administration of the Tonga Water Board (TWB). After completing the sub-project to rehabilitate 17 wellfields, construct 12 new wellfields, and construct a bigger 4,000 cubic meter (4 million liter) capacity reservoir, water began flowing freely again from household taps.
“There was a great impact from the installation of a bigger water tank and several pumping stations because they enabled water pressure to be sustained throughout the day,” Tapueluelu said.
“The project’s major achievement was to give us the financial and operational capability to provide uninterrupted water supply,” added Deputy CEO Quddus Fielea of TWB. Furthermore, he said that leaks were plugged across the distribution network, resulting in a significant reduction in water losses from 50% prior to NUDSP to the current 15% level.
Higher customer satisfaction became evident after the two utilities—TWB and WAL—began to receive technical assistance. Residents were pleased to get their 24/7 water supply and being notified promptly about any service disruption. Water supply was restored relatively faster in the wake of destructive cyclones Gita (2018) and Harold (2020).
The waste management utility, WAL, was able to upgrade its truck fleet and expand the waste management landfill. Consequently, WAL achieved 100% collection coverage for the first time in Nuku’alofa and 72 rural villages across Tonga’s main island of Tongatapu. By late 2019 it was also collecting and treating 50% more septage, thanks to new drying beds and specialized trucks that could pump out sewage. WAL also helped clean up the solid and green waste debris scattered by cyclone Gita.
“We responded to the clamor of Tonga’s grassroots population for better sanitation facilities in public spaces and we also improved access for the disabled,” Deputy Team Leader of the project implementation assistance consultants Seventini Toumoua said.
Awareness grew about waste minimization and recycling after an information drive was launched on popular media platforms. More households and establishments learned to adopt the eco-friendly handling of solid waste at the source, which would decongest the volume of garbage and minimize air and groundwater pollution in the sanitary landfill.
The Tonga government set up a centralized Utilities Board to streamline its control and supervision over different service providers. Public sector workers became better equipped in urban planning and environmental management, financial management and in the operation and maintenance of facilities, while 20 staff were trained as sanitation and environmental inspectors.
Before winding down the NUDSP, a successor project—the Integrated Urban Resilience Sector Project—was approved by ADB and will build on gains and continue channeling support to the TWB, WAL, the National Spatial Planning Authority Office, and the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources.
The government has affirmed how NUDSP has strengthened the capacities and skills of personnel in the public utilities sector. “We go forward from here knowing that our supervisors are greatly aware how important it is to assure the quality of our work,” said COO, NSPAO/Project Manager, NUDSP, Tonga. “We are confident that quality was achieved in every subproject that we did.”
A video about the project was prepared by the Project Management Unit of Tonga's National Spatial Planning Agency Office. Watch it on YouTube.