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The water conjuror

Within 22 Regiment headquarters in Banja Luka, Captain Mark Coyle is cheerfully in charge of all construction activities. Cheerfully because he's on loan from the Australian army and so is very happy to be on operation rather than just training.

'We're very much a practising army,' explains Coyle. 'Around 90-95% of the Australian army has no operational experience. All we do is train, then we train a bit more.'

With no realistic end to NATO's involvement in Bosnia in sight, providing comfortable and semi-permanent accommodation for the 5,000 troops in the south west multi-national division is now higher up SFOR's priorities.

Banja Luka's massive camp is based in the town's huge but now unused sheet metal factory. Sadly, the war meant that the factory, once employment for thousands, was abandoned - the day its new computer controlled equipment was commissioned. It is now home to over 1,000 soldiers and their war- fighting equipment.

Accommodation here, as in all other bases in Bosnia, is created using pre-fabricated cabins assembled from flat-packed kits. Prime requirement for good health is maintaining a supply of fresh water, around 180 litres of water a day per soldier.

Coyle's task was to complete a project started by engineers from the previous tour to reduce reliance on both bottled drinking water and on the local non-potable mains water. Frequent failure of this mains supply has led in the past to shower and clothes washing bans being needed for up to four days at a time as additional boreholes sunk around the camp do not have the capacity to meet needs.

'We have got to get away from relying on the local infrastructure because it is not predictable or of a very high standard,' says Coyle. 'Drinking it won't kill you but it could make you ill. And shipping in bottled water for drinking is hugely expensive.'

When tackling this project, Coyle ran straight into one of the most common engineering problems on tours - trying to fathom out why previous engineers decided to solve the problem in a particular way and coming up with a better solution without wasting too much money.

Coyle has now abandoned the original dual clean and dirty water system fed by mains and boreholes, in favour of a combined system - a brand new £63,000 mini-treatment works plus four massive 50,000 litre storage tanks.

'At £120,000, this is an expensive solution,' says Coyle. But he adds that releasing other portable purification units and in-line chlorinators and not buying and transporting bottled water, achieves massive savings. 'We expect the project to pay for itself in two years.'

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