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Niueans To Go Without Electricity For Three Weeks

Niueans To Go Without Electricity For Three Weeks

By John Andrews, Pacific Affairs Correspondent

Niueans may have to live rough on their tiny South Pacific island for up to three weeks while waiting for a new power generator.

The destruction this week of the island’s main source of electricity has caused chaos, forcing school classrooms to close and bringing government services to a virtual standstill.

Niue’s dejected Premier, Young Vivian.

Without power to reticulate water, the island’s population of around 1300 have to ration water supplies, cook with gas and dine by candlelight.

As the Niue government pleads for New Zealand to urgently provide a new generator, their disaster management officials are trying to ensure the island can cope in survival mode.

They’re hoping the New Zealand Air Force can provide a Hercules aircraft to transport a generator and associated equipment to the island.

Because of worries about a reliable runway lighting system at Niue’s Hanan International Airport, Niue has asked Air New Zealand to consider a daylight flight from Auckland to Niue instead of the normal late night 737 service it normally runs on Fridays.

The generator’s destruction while he was out of the country is just the latest headache for Niue’s dejected Premier, Young Vivian.

Since returning to Auckland from a conference of Pacific Island leaders in Japan on Monday, he’s been virtually sleepless while contemplating how fellow countrymen are coping with his island’s latest crisis and considering options.

Ironically he was in Auckland arranging for his wife’s funeral when Cyclone Heta devastated his island homeland back in January, 2004.

Mr Vivian estimates a new generator will cost in the range of $500,000, money his cash-strapped government does not have.

He’s not sure how the fire started but wonders if the departure to Australia of Niue’s only qualified electrician two weeks ago may have been a factor.

His eyes widening, he described how the recruitment of a stand-in electrician for only two months would cost Niue $39,000.

Mr Vivian said: “This is an emergency. It cannot go on very long. If we have no water, I reckon a week and we will have to consider going back to basics.

“I think it is grovelling time again. Do you think I like grovelling? It is depressing for people to have to do that. No one likes to be like that.

“I feel very frustrated about the whole thing because our future is not clear. We are dependent on things beyond my control. I’m at the mercy of those people who assist us.

“We begin to get it right [post Cyclone Heta] and we get hard hit again. It’s not the last straw. There’s hope. The lifestyle in Niue is better than in New Zealand,” he said as he agonised at the thought thousands of Niueans had left their homeland --- about 20,000 live in New Zealand --- for what they regarded as a higher standard of living.

Niue, he said, had small emergency generators for its airport, new hospital, telecommunications and broadcasting station but there was no way they can cater for the needs of 600 households.

Because of the importance of the airport runway lights and Niue’s present reliance on emergency power, he hoped Air New Zealand would be able reschedule the next 737 flight to daylight hours.

“We do not want Air New Zealand to take risks,” he said.

An irony in the power calamity was the fact that the myriad of 400 to 800-gallon water tanks Niue householders used to own were deliberately destroyed about 15 years ago on the advice of foreign health officials worried the structures would harbour dengue fever-bearing mosquitos.

Mr Vivian said officials in Niue were formulating written submissions to the New Zealand on how best the power crisis could be overcome.

Sisilia Talagi, Niue's high commissioner to New Zealand, said she received several inquiries from Niue-bound tourists wanting to know if they should go ahead with their holiday plans. She told them they would have to "rough it" if they flew to the island in the next week or so.


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