Ash Layton l Palladium - Feb 17 2023
The People of Yule Island Need Running Water, and the Chance to Do it Themselves

I had the privilege of kicking off 2023 in Papua New Guinea (PNG), scoping a community-led sanitation project on Yule Island. It was my first time outside of PNG's capital and my second work opportunity with Palladium in PNG, a country where Palladium has operated for more than 50 years.

Yule Island, with a population of approximately 1600 people, is located 160 kilometres northwest of Port Moresby. Despite its proximity to the nation's capital, it’s often overlooked for support because of the difficulties in accessing and delivering frontline services. Many working-age people live and work on the mainland and only return to the island for the Christmas period and important holidays.

Arriving on Yule Island

Sporting my life jacket and satellite phone, we drove 1.5 hours down the highway to Poukama village and took two banana boats to Yule Island. As we approached the banks of the island, I was struck by the obvious erosion of the coastline and shocked to learn that we were floating where part of the island once stood.

Indeed, climate change and its impacts are very apparent on Yule Island. Among the four resident clans, many people have been forced to relocate their homes due to coastal erosion. This has of course also been detrimental to the natural ecosystems on the island, including its surrounding coral reefs and endemic spider species.

As we disembarked, leaping from the edge of the boat to the sandy shoreline, we were welcomed by members of the community, shaking hands and returning smiles. I was even introduced to a small chicklet that had found its home in the shirt sleeves of a young girl named Tina.

As we moved from the shore into the centre of the village, we walked past the small school that services the island, the chief’s house, the volleyball court, the rugby field, and one of only two water taps that serve the entire village.

After being welcomed onto the village platform by song and a handcrafted headpiece, we began our consultation work with prominent members of the community to understand how we could best complement their existing work on bringing water to the village. Yule Island rests atop a network of natural springs, creating a frustrating reality where day-to-day access to water is challenging.

A Journey for Clean Water

Agnes, the spokesperson for the women on the island, ran me through the arduous journey the women (and a few men) undertake numerous times a day to bring water to the village. On an average day, the women on Yule Island carry over 100 litres of water from the well down into the village; a 4-kilometre round-trip, which we all took together.

Agnes explained that the children in the village begin helping the women with this task and others like it at a young age, and many women are incapacitated by debilitating skeletal and muscular injuries to their knees, backs, necks, and arms as early as 50 years old. They also have limited medical care and infrequent access to pain relief, making this acquired disability an uncomfortable and persistent feature of women's lives on the island.

Through consultation with the members of the village and our local partners, we discussed possible approaches to getting running water into households. Key to the success of water and sanitation projects on the island is community-led initiatives and ownership, coupled with sustainable infrastructure. We decided to explore the option of solar-powered water pumps and gravity-fed plumbing from the tanks to the village – both of which the community are eager to learn how to implement themselves.

With a fire in my belly and a watermelon in my arms, I boarded the banana boat to head back to the mainland. I’m eager to continue learning from PNG's provincial communities and working towards creating new experiences that positively impact people’s lives.

“I’m thrilled to see the team visiting and learning from rural communities like those residing on Yule Island,” Palladium Managing Partner Ron Erasmus told me when I returned. He believes that it’s through our meaningful dialogues at the community level that we’re able to identify fit-for-purpose solutions that can positively impact lives in rural and remote communities, and I was grateful for the opportunity to lead those dialogues in real time.

Special thanks to Ali Ume from Kyeema Foundation and Gani Varo. For more information, contact