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‘UNELCO controls both the water and the testing’

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Vila Times responds to ‘fake news’ allegations

The article titled “Who is poisoning drinking water in Port Vila? Why tap water in Port Vila has been contaminated with poison of too much chlorine for decades, who is responsible, and what it will take to fix the problem” has been published in Vila Times issue 155 on January 29, 2018.

Port Vila’s Daily Post newspaper in its story titled “Water Fears Misplaced” dated February 9 calls Vila Times’ article “an alarmist story with inaccurate claims that the municipal water supply is being poisoned,” while Minister Ralph Regenvanu, following DP’s publication, even said in social media the original article is “fake news”.

Which is a bit strange, since in the Vila Times article Ralph Regenvanu was given credit for commencing the fixing of this problem. Probably Minister Ralph is such a modest person he doesn’t want media to give him any compliments. Or maybe, and this is far more likely, Mr Regenvanu just never read the article in Vila Times and simply repeated someone else’s words without trying to sort it out.

To clarify its position, and defend reputation, Vila Times publishes this open statement.


Dear Daily Post, we understand you are in competition and want to look better criticising the rival – this is natural. And at the same time to support the bottled water brand, one of the main Daily Post’s advertisers – not natural, but also understandable. But it does not change the facts.

Of course UNELCO will supply a chart showing the drinking water to be near perfect, and it probably was at the time of testing near the source. After all, UNELCO controls both the water and the testing, so the results of this testing are quite predictable, and should not be considered as a proof.

If you really want to uncover the truth so much, go to the villages surrounding Port Vila town and ask the older people what they think of the water these days – you’ll be amazed how many will agree with Vila Times, and how many had been concerned about clearly too high levels of chlorine in the water, being forced to buy insanely overpriced local bottled water every day. But don’t ask the young ones – they don’t know the good tap water. And if you test the water now it is probably OK, since we sounded the alarm.

In its article Daily Post first claims that chlorination does not cause cancer, then a few paragraphs later it says that it does, indirectly. Vila Times already covered this in the original piece:

“Chlorine itself is relatively benign, and was created to help keep us free from infectious diarrhoeas, but it reacts with organic materials which is already dissolve in water, forming chemicals (known as DBP’s) that are over 100 times more toxic than chlorine.”

It is debatable if this is “Poisoning” or not, but all the worlds newspapers use simplified headings to attract attention. You know this better than anyone. To find the truth all you have to do is to read the article.

For those who believe Daily Post’s claims that it is “unlikely that it [Vila water] would cause even one more case of cancer within the next 150 years” just Google it, what heavy chlorination you can clearly taste in the water can do to your health. True, careful chlorination does kill unwanted bacteria and contamination and is acceptable as also agreed in our article, but over-chlorination is not, and that is what we have had a lot of.

Daily Post’s quotation that “lack of clean water kills hundreds of thousands of children a year” is misplaced since our article they are damning does not deal with the large parts of the unfortunate world that has only contaminated water, but Port Vila, where we should have one of the best natural and clean waters in the world.

It is commendable that UNELCO is now taking the problem serious and reassuring that testing is done and that Daily Post agrees that independent oversight is desirable.

And for the Minister Regenvanu – we would respectfully recommend him to be careful with the term “fake news,” as we know this term is a trademark of one very controversial Western politician – Donald Trump, and is used broadly by him when he doesn’t like some story about incompetency, his and his government’s. We just hope people in Vanuatu Government would learn good things from the West, while unfunded accusations of media is certainly a wrong trick, learned from a very, very wrong type of politician.

By Charlie Mayam exclusively for Vila Times