This is an edited reprint of a post from May, 2017. Having just returned from a conference on clean water, and planning for this years water projects, it is a good reminder of what it means to have access to clean water.
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.“ (John 4:10)
Blue… for as far as the eye can see… air, water and the occasional green dot as mountains spring from the deep. The South Sea Islands are glistening jewels immersed in sea and sky. Outside the airplane window from 36,000 feet it seems endless. Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji — it is almost inconceivable that human migration would discover such places. Yet the Melanesian people who call the vastness of Oceana their home occupy every livable rock.
Water… this region has more annual overall rainfall than any other in the world. The ground soaks it up like a sponge and it spills down mountains in cascades and ribbon rivers. Even the clouds that splash the sky explode with it. Rain water and salt water are abundant, but fresh drinking water is another story. It never seems enough to meet the needs of the people who live here. 60% of the people here do not have access to clean drinking water.
We were returning from a week spent in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG). We were the guests of Pastor Magi Goro. Magi went home to be with Jesus two years ago on June 30, 2019. He was a well-driller, a pastor, the Southern Region Supervisor of the National Church of Foursquare in Papua New Guinea (PNG), and a National Executive Council member. He lead the church in this region. One of the most effective ways he did this was through water ministry. He reached the communities that were displaced by development in the city.
Over the past decades, the Port Moresby slums were known for their extreme poverty. Life was cheap. Desperation made for brutal life in a community where everyone had to fight for daily survival. 400,000 people lived there — resettled from the primitive villages throughout PNG. There are over 800 languages spoken in this island nation, so people tended to settle in the slums by clans to create safe zones for living. In a stunning example of human resilience, people made these slums their homes. Until they were displaced.
In May of 2012, the first advance on the settlements was conducted on the Paga Hill community. Paga Hill is a rock that rises above the city with panoramic ocean views. It held promise for upscale homes and businesses. A developer who had won rights to the area* attempted to force the eviction of its 3,000 residents. There was armed revolt and many people died in the conflict. That attempt failed, but the business community learned from it and it paved the way for subsequent cooperative efforts by the city, police and developers to force the people out of the slums in Port Moresby. In the next 3 years, over 400,000 people were evicted from what had been legal settlements in Port Moresby. It was hailed as a big success for the revitalization of Port Moresby and an end to urban blight. There are signs proclaiming the victory “We did it!”
While there, I drove up Paga Hill. What I saw was abandoned homes and a chain link fence to prevent anyone from returning. Already, there are beautiful homes in some parts of the hill that enjoy a view that takes your breath away. This is gentrification — the confiscation of land by the wealthy and the forced removal of the existing residents who are poor, defenseless, and in the way. The former residents have suffered because of it. It is tempting to say that it is a good thing. There is prosperity and the result is a cleaner, safer Port Moresby. If you don’t encounter the displaced people, you might think it is the success the politicians claim.
But consider this — a plan was hatched by developers and the city to forcibly remove people from their homes in order to increase property values and make a lot of money. The meetings that were held by city planners, investors and developers did not include the current residents. How many ways could this have been done that would have been just? Perhaps they could have been invited into the de and given a chance to participate. Perhaps they could have asked for jobs building the new development. Perhaps they could have asked for help with resettlement. Perhaps they could have said no and made sure there was no errant relative selling them out. It doesn’t really matter now — they were never given a voice at the table. The impact of their plans on marginalized people remains invisible to the new residents.
The victims of this gentrification scattered to the surrounding hills in makeshift bush villages. The transition to rural life was hard and there were those who died from disease and violence. Dysentery, typhoid, cholera and other water-borne diseases continued to take their toll, especially among infants. To add to the challenges they faced, there was a drought when we arrived.
Magi couldn’t dig wells fast enough with his ailing drill rig. He spent more time repairing it than drilling. Villagers were drinking dirty surface water (polluted creeks, rivers and ponds). He spoke of being in the villages with moms who were hopeless to save their babies. Clean water is expensive to buy in PNG. People make hard choices. They walk for miles to get water from a trusted municipal source (though our testing showed that these sources were also unclean). Even if villagers are 95% careful, they make compromises when they are thirsty and cannot make the trek.
The most encouraging thing about being in Port Moresby was to see the good work Magi and his crew were doing. We provided a new rig and the team is able to dig wells again at a pretty good rate. They are helping people purify water from the various sources available. We noted when we first came that they were very good at getting water out of the ground, but not so good at ensuring its drinking quality. We brought test kits, filters and basic water training in methods for purifying water. Magi and his teams acted like evangelists… bringing the good news to community after community. They were able to address water quality issue even before they drilled a well. We visited numerous communities that told us about the improved health they were experiencing. They expressed their confidence in Magi and his team. This is how the Gospel is expressed…
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; (Isaiah 61:1-2)
* “won the rights” usually means that one resident sold the property and got out of town before anyone knew. The residents are bound by the agreement. There are numerous court cases contesting this, but they have not fared well in the judicial system.