There was a little news article in The National Newspaper from the 20th Sept., 2012, which I thought was the most important news article of the day. However, that was all it was – a small article on page 7.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Leon Dion was briefed on the findings by a report on the Risk Assessment of Catastrophes in the Pacific. The reported states that, in the next 50 years, PNG is expected to incur loss exceeding US$700 million with casualties over 5,000 from natural disasters.
In PNG, we expect disasters and losses, however, we never monetize the costs of disasters. When we do, as was done in that report, and compare with the money we have, we begin to realize how unprepared we really are to future natural disasters. The disasters, when compounded with the unpredictable impacts of climate change – the cost as well as number of casualties will certainly go right up.
The current trend on how we approach disasters, is to just turn up and contribute money after the disaster has already happened. This shows a lack of forethought and anticipation of future happenings.
The Deputy PM made a good call for readiness, when he called for effective coordination and adequate financing to be made available for planning for disasters. Sadly that is all he says. There is no mention of a strategy for implementation or a reassurance that a strategy would be discussed.
If that speech lacked a strategy, a strategy is now being set down in the Climate Change Policy being developed by the Office of Climate Change and development (OCCD). The document from the OCCD places great emphasis on proper planning and coordination to mitigate climate change, optimum utilization of renewable energy sources, strengthening climate resilient initiatives and driving forward a low carbon growth pathway in the future.
A strategy for PNG must be informed by well-researched and scientifically credible data. The recently launched books containing scientific assessment of climate change in the Pacific contains data collected over time that can be mined to support plans for climate change adaptation. This and other scientifically credible data can greatly inform and fortify any strategy the country comes up with.
A workable plan, in my opinion, will be for the government to direct all government sectors and line agencies to align their scope of responsibilities with the climate change policy. This means that OCCD must pass the Climate Change Policy which has been in draft for a number of years. After the policy is done, funds must be made available for those initiatives.
A few initiatives that come to mind are as listed below.
The strategy must include climate-proofing infrastructure. In designing infrastructure, the responsible organisation must work closely with best engineering practices, supported by good data and credible science on the effect of climate change on infrastructure. Construction of climate-proof infrastructure will save money and time in the future.
Furthermore, the government must put more money into health education. Health concerns arising from water and food contamination always come to the forefront with natural disasters. Money must be spent on preventative education to ensure that the affected people can apply first-aid on themselves – this step will minimize the number of casualties as well as the cost of treating those affected by the disaster.
Since bulk of Papua New Guineans still depend on agriculture to sustain their livelihood, money must also be put into agriculture research. The National Agriculture Research Institute (NARI) must continue with its excellent programs on food and seed storage techniques, so that food and seeds can be kept over long periods of time over unpredictable weather conditions. NARI also has programs on propagating drought resistant crops, likewise, effort must be put into propagating crops that can tolerate a lot of water.
The National Weather Service’s must also be well- funded and equipped with state-of –the art instruments to predict the weather and inform people who will take steps to move themselves out of danger as first line of defense. Furthermore, the Provincial Disaster Offices must be well equipped and well-funded as the first line response to disasters.
In conclusion, we must anticipate future events and prepare for them using as many information sources as possible. A well thought out plan is in itself a climate change adaptation strategy.
(Ref: The National (2012), Dion: Country expects loss. The National Newspaper, 20 September 2012, pg 7)