Nuku’alofa, Tonga – While Tongans shy away from openly discussing issues surrounding toilets or septic tanks, a government survey found bacteria in public drinking water.
A survey in the Hihifo area conducted by the Ministry of Land Survey and Natural Resources revealed the bacteria E-coli in the village’s tap water.
Silia Ledger, coordinator for the survey, in an interview with Radio New Zealand spoke about the problems of poorly constructed septic tanks and the lack of sanitation system oversight in Tonga.
The survey found three types of toilets commonly used in Tonga: pit toilets or long drops, pour toilets, and flush toilets – they all go directly into septic tanks.
However, survey found that some houses have a septic tank that’s just a hole dug with large rocks inside, then the top is sealed to make it look like a proper septic tank.
Other homes had not had their septic tanks pumped or checked for cracks in 5 to 15 years, survey found.
Cracks and leakage causes human waste to discharge into the ground, contaminate water lands under the island, where people draw their water.
What is the E-coli bacteria?
According to the Mayo Clinic: Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria normally live in the intestines of healthy people and animals. Most varieties of E. coli are harmless or cause relatively brief diarrhea. But a few particularly nasty strains, such as E. coli O157:H7, can cause severe abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhea and vomiting.
Silia Ledger states “a lot of technical skills have led to the poorly constructed sanitation systems.”
Tonga does not yet have building codes or standard requirements for septic tanks.
She also emphasized Tongan culture does not allow people to freely discuss issues around toilets.
On the other hand, clean water is a public safety issue that must be addressed, as well as the root cause, even if it’s culturally embarrassing as an issue.