Financial secretary Garth Henderson said this method was best-suited to the island’s reliance on rainfall and surface water.
The water catchment in the hills remained accessible, and was the home of many living animals and micro-organisms – some of which could have a major health impact if they were allowed to remain in the water supply.
That is why chlorination was mentioned in early planning documents for the Te Mato Vai Project, he said.
“I am comfortable that chlorination in some form was always envisaged by many government officials as the potential preferred option, simply on the basis of World Health Organisation recommendation and best practice in many countries,” Henderson said.
“I am particularly supportive of chlorination for those of our community members who are older and more vulnerable health-wise, not as able physical and financially to buy bottled water, use gas to boil water or pickup water from the community water stations or hook up a water tank to their roofs.
“Being able to turn on the tap for drinking and washing their food and have no qualms about getting sick as a result.”
Chlorination as a disinfection option is being intensively debated in forums ranging from newspaper letter to social media to public meetings. Many people have expressed unhappiness with the method and the process government is following to decide on the disinfection option.
Henderson said social media was not the best medium for balanced and informed debate.
“I note the accusations from several quarters that government has already made up its mind on chlorination as the preferred disinfection without considering other options,” he noted.
“I expect that shortly a Cabinet submission will be going to Cabinet with input from a variety of government agencies. This Cabinet submission will include recommendations on disinfection of Rarotonga water supply.
Water supply agency To Tatou Vai had tendered for a supplier of chlorination chemicals in May; this month, the prime minister put that purchase process on ice, pending Cabinet sign-off. To Tatou Vai was given a rap over the knuckles for embarrassing the government.
“This process of policy development and decision making is not fully understood by many members of the public,” Henderson said yesterday.
“This process is outlined in the Cabinet Manual and the Government Policy Toolkit and they both mirror similar processes in other Western-style democracies. I believe our approach was adopted from New Zealand government processes.”
Henderson also said he do not believe that sharing more information was going to change determined minds.
The chlorination decision would be based on public consultation meetings, and targeted consultation with the Chamber of Commerce, House of Ariki, non-government organisations, experts, desktop research and studies, he added. - RK
Nine steps to safer drinking water
The guidelines followed by government agencies to decide on chlorination include:
1. The policy must be based on sound evidence and research, both quantitative and qualitative.
2. The policy must take into account and recognize all stakeholders who will be affected by the policy and those involved in implementing it. It pays particular attention to people who are socially or economically disadvantaged because of their age, gender, social status, physical condition, geographical location, or other factors.
3. The policy is designed to address both the current and future needs of the country.
4. Where appropriate, new policy provides a new way of doing things, since the status quo has not achieved the desired outcomes. Innovative policy solutions may need to customised to suit the unique policy environment of this small island country.
5. The implementation of policy must involve collaborating with many parties and the process of policy development reflects this.
6. During policy development there must be a review of previous experience, to learn from and avoid repeating the mistakes of the past and build upon what has previously worked.
7. During the development of the policy all stakeholders must have been made aware of the process, informed of policy details, and given the opportunity to actively participate in the process.
8. The policy must have a system to evaluate whether it has been effectively implemented and if it is delivering on desired outcomes.
9. The policy must be mindful of the global context and be consistent with international best practice, laws and conventions that the Cook Islands are party to.