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Sumatra: water supplies under pressure

News

OXFAM ENGINEERS were this week working to restore reliable water supplies to Meulaboh, the north Sumatran west coast's largest settlement.

Before the tsunami the water treatment plant at Meulaboh operated at 80 litres/second for 18 hours a day to serve the 75,000 population. Now it functions at around one litre per second.

Oxfam's team has to make daily helicopter trips from Banda Aceh. It aims to increase capacity to around 40 litres/ second. This should be enough to serve the current population which has fallen substantially as a result of the disaster.

New Zealander Les Collins of Specialist Utility Maintenance is among the engineers on each flight.

'The earthquake had damaged the intake building and the raw water delivery main. The intake pipe was lost, ' he said.

'The ground underneath the building had liquefied and tilted and the pipeline route has about 2km of earthquake fissures along it.

'The plant is quite old but structurally sound and if it could get a source it could deliver water.

'The plan is to repair the raw water delivery main temporarily, lash up a generator where the pumps are and pump water through to the plant.' Two other plants in the town were flattened in the disaster, increasing the need to get the main plant up and running.

Collins estimated the cost of repairing the earthquake damage at around $500,000 (£263,000).

He predicted that much of the west coast's water supplies would be in a similar state.

Ian Lawrence in Banda Aceh

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