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Tonga, surrounded by water, yet can’t take it for granted

Tonga, surrounded by water, yet can’t take it for granted

Mele’ana Puloka near Bethlehem. © Peter Kenny/WCC

Mar 21, 2016

In Tonga there is lot of water to see, but not necessarily a lot for people to use.

Mele’ana Puloka, a member of the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, is World Council of Churches president for the Pacific, living on the islands that have a population of about 106,000.

Space is tight on the 748-square-kilometre (288-square-mile) Pacific Ocean Kingdom of Tonga.

Puloka, who heads education for the Methodist Church in Tonga, grew up on the islands with their pristine beaches at a time that the availability of water was taken for granted.

“I grew up in towns most of the time. We were used to running water and did not think when we used it.”

The Polynesian islands are in a remote part of the world, a two-hour flight from New Zealand.

“One day I went home and the water had run out,” Puloka recounted from Bethlehem, where water is also a justice issue.

She could not turn on the shower, but had to wash sparingly with cups of water.

“It made me realize, we have to use this precious resource carefully and with prudence,” said Puloka.

Water distribution can depend on wealth and that is why water justice is a key issue in both Tonga and Palestine, said Puloka, referring to the WCC’s Lenten campaign on water.

The World Health Organization reports that ensuring a regular supply of safe water is particularly complicated for small Pacific island states such as Tonga.

“There is a reduced number of possible fresh water sources, over extraction of groundwater and changing weather patterns and rising sea levels,” says WHO. The region also faces the potential of salt water intrusion into its fresh water.

WCC campaign Seven Weeks for Water: www.oikoumene.org/7-weeks-for-water

WCC Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace: www.oikoumene.org/pilgrimage