Case story

  • Papua New Guinea


Petromin PNG, Tolukuma Water Supply Project - community/NGO/Company assessment

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Case Status

A community-NGO-company assessment team was established to address a specific community grievance. The Tolukuma water supply project has resulted in the provision of clean water for two communities affected by the Tolukuma gold mine in Papua New Guinea.


Each year, the Tolukuma Gold Mine dumps more than 230,000 tonnes of mine tailings into Papua New Guinea’s Auga-Angabanga river system. In August 2007, a joint assessment of community water needs was done by community members and leaders, local NGO the Centre for Environmental Research and Development, local CBO the Mekeo Environment and Conservation Foundation, Oxfam Australia and the mining company, Tolukuma Gold Mine (owned by Petromin PNG). Community members in two villages now have adequate quantities of safe water in the wet season which represents a significant positive change for these communities.

For communities downstream who depend on the river for drinking and washing, fishing and maintaining their vegetable gardens, the consequences of the mine’s waste disposal practices can be severe. Community members attribute illnesses to drinking and washing in the river. They report that fish have died, posing a threat to the community's food supply, and that changes in the river flow have led to flash flooding, making river crossings difficult and preventing access to market gardens.

Women have been particularly affected because they are responsible for the collection of water for their families. Women from some villages along the Angabanga River walk for many hours each day to collect clean water from streams and wells. This has implications for their workloads and for their safety as they pass through land belonging to other villages. The limited availability of clean water has implications for health and hygiene, especially of children.

Analysis of the river water commissioned by Oxfam Australia found the presence of arsenic, lead and other heavy metals in the water, in some cases above World Health Organisation standards. Oxfam Australia, the Centre for Environmental Research and Development (CERD, an Oxfam Australia partner organisation based in Papua New Guinea) and local community members demanded that Tolukuma Gold Mine, then owned by Emperor Mines, provide community members with alternative sources of clean water. The company agreed.

In August 2007, Oxfam Australia’s former Mining Ombudsman facilitated the assessment of alternative clean water sources in two affected communities, Gagaifua and Oriropetana. The assessment team included community members and leaders, CERD, a local community organisation, mining company staff and Oxfam Australia technical advisers. The company agreed that it would implement the assessment team's recommendations should they be acceptable to participating communities.

Recommendations for the provision of clean water were based on the information and advice of communities coupled with technical analysis of the possible solutions. Information on existing water supplies and contamination issues was collected using a number of participatory rural appraisal (PRA) tools including community mapping, exploratory walks and semi structured interviews.

It was recommended that rain water tanks be supplied to households to provide water for drinking and cooking, and that water for bathing and laundry be provided by hand dug wells fitted with low-flow solar pumps. It was also recommended that households be provided with bio-sand filters able to remove microbiological pathogens. These filters would be used treat water from the wells and used for drinking and cooking during the dry season when the rain water tanks may run out. These recommendations were accepted by community members and the mining company.


The company has implemented most of the recommendations from the assessment. As a result community members in Gagaifua and Oriropetana have adequate quantities of safe water in the wet season – this represents a significant positive change for these communities.


Original Author: Christina Hill

Contributor(s): This article was modified by Admin (9), Kyle (2), (1), George hodge (1), and Nicolaclayre (1).

Participant Perspectives 

Oxfam perspective

Date: 2009/12/01 

Success Factors

The project has focused on providing clean water in two communities, that is, on the provision of infrastructure to address a specific community grievance.

There has been no attempt to resolve the full range of grievances expressed by all affected community members in a manner similar to that employed during the water project. The process has not involved or lead to the establishment of a formal or permanent grievance mechanism yet offers many important lessons – both success factors and challenges – for those interested in community-company grievance resolution. These include the following:

Clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders and project partners, and communicating this with community members, allows community members to understand which organisation is responsible for what. This then allows for the establishment of a formal structure of accountability that defines who is accountable to whom. This allows community members to hold the relevant organisation or individual accountable for commitments they have made to resolving community grievances.

Establish basic systems to monitor implementation of the project. This system should be clear on who is responsible for monitoring, what is to be monitored and how often. Community members should be assigned some responsibility for monitoring project implementation. This should then increase community ownership of project activities and grievance resolution so that community members see themselves as equal and active partners, not passive recipients, of the project. Establishing a regular and culturally appropriate communication mechanism between the community, company and other stakeholders allows for reporting on monitoring activities and for ongoing grievances to be raised by community members directly with the company for resolution.

Understanding the distinct cultural aspects of the communities involved so that the project is planned and implemented in a way that is consistent with how community members operate in their daily lives. It is important to take sufficient time understand the broader cultural context and the specific characteristics of the communities involved in the project.

Seek to involve a wide range of stakeholders in the process of grievance resolution even those stakeholders that others perceive to be weak, ineffective or uninterested.