El Nino is here, now what?

It has been 18 long years since the last major El Nino event in PNG. In months, 216 months has come and gone. In weeks, that is close to 900 weeks. Three different governments have come and gone, we are under the fourth. One gold mine has closed but the Liquefied Natural gas Project (LNG) has come about.

Between then and now, PNG has seen several flooding events, cyclones, volcanoes eruption, and a major landslide event.  Given such a long time, and the benefit of varied experiences, how have we prepared for this current threat?

The current El Niño event was predicted by numerous sources as early as 1997.

In 2015, the days started getting considerably cooler during the Pacific Games in July, predictably because this is also the beginning of a dry and cool season. Then in the early August 2015, the hot days and cooler nights saw consecutive days of frost in some high attitude areas.

Social media has been full of reports and images of rotting vegetation from the highland provinces and hinterlands of some coastal provinces. On the other hand, images  from other parts of the country show dry, hard baked soil and reduced water level.

It has been close to 28 days and yet but there seems to be a lack of coordination of relief activities by designated government authorities in addressing the current natural disaster.

Why is that so? Definitely this is not because of lack of a system.

There is a permanent National Disaster and Emergency Service (NDES) housed in the Department of Provincial and Local Government Affairs (DPLGA). The NDES is responsible for coordinating the emergency responses to disaster affected areas.

Above the NDES is the National Disaster Committee (NDC). The secretary of the DPLGA is the chair of a NDC which is made up of secretaries of select departments. The NDC then reports to the National Executive Council (NEC) which is headed by the Prime Minister.  All these is governed by an Act of the Parliament.

To be fair, the system only makes decision given information it receives from technical groups which includes the Weather Office, the National Disaster Office, and the office of climate Change.  However, information from relevant authorities on this issue has been very scarce.

Even information in the mainstream media is very rudimentary.

This lack of information may be a contributing factor to the lack of an action plan.   The only reports that give any lead to the type of action to be taken comes from Australian Academics who point out the importance of securing food for the unpredictable days ahead.

The slow response may also be because of lack of funds. But this is not a good excuse given the long time we had for preparation.

If it not a lack of money then, it is either lack of trust for the designated authorities to implement government plans. It was in the media that the office of the PM is taking a special interest and sending delegates from his office to inspect situations for relief.  If work cannot be delegated to the designated office, then why set them up in the first place?

Or most probably, the designated offices are incompetent and cannot serve their office.

The University of PNG has taken steps to educate practitioners in a Diploma Program called the Climate Hazard Assessment and Risk Management (CHARM).  Despite this effort to increase competence of workforce in this field, the fruits of this effort will have a lag time of 3-4 years.

Another cause of failure can be due to lack of follow through – so many ministers of the government give lip service to citizen programs but never follow through. An example from 2012 can be seen here. Such  leadership can only be corrected through the ballot in 2017.

While we bite our nails, and share images on social media, people will suffer and livelihoods disrupted.

But eventually people will rebuild because they are resilient. Papua New Guineans are already used to making do with very little available resources as many are so far from the government services. But that should not be the excuse for the government not to support people in times of trouble.

Instead of a very heavy top-down approach to helping citizens that is too cumbersome to implement, the government must put in place the infrastructure and disseminate information needed to facilitate an easier livelihood. Papua new Guineans are not lazy people, they will use available infrastructure and information to help themselves – in good times and bad times.

So, what now?  Don’t wait for the government.Look after your family and your extended family as we have always done. Look after your health and your water and pray the El Nino will be over soon.

Your next party needs an event planner

18-07-15 closing ceremony15 pacific games-Tanya ZerigaAlone (11)Protocol. Planning. Procedure. Crowd control. Whatever term you choose to use, order and ceremony are ingredients still missing in most of our events and ceremonies in Papua New Guinea.

The current trend is to leave the details to chance and assume these details will, by miracle unfold the way you want them to go. The result; disorder and chaos.

This is similar to the misconception by new drivers. When I was a learner, I assumed the vehicle would intuitively respond to my thoughts and move to the direction in my head when I shift into reverse gear and start to move.  I learned fast that, reversing is a conscious operation. When you are learning, you plan your move in your head, then transfer those thoughts to the wheels, then the tires will  respond to how you turn the wheel.

Similarly, planning an event. The steps of the event have to be thought out, and planned before being executed. Playing it by ear works for smaller events but not so for bigger events which will  involve more guests and more variables. Every step and every detail have to be considered. Some overlooked detail, even though minor may unravel your party causing more than one negative impact.

Public gatherings squeeze many people into a tiny space. Tall people, short people, fat people, skinny people, big hair, bald heads, young people, old people and people with babies. Smokers, non-smokers. All these differences and the many other human variability need to be taken into account and catered for.

At any one time and among the many, some people will need food, others water, others need to answer the call of nature, others looking for trouble while the rest look forward to be entertained and fed well, if food is part of the event. A few think they are entitled to a bigger space and spread themselves out into adjoining spaces, annoying other people.  All these needs must be provided for and allowances made for others.

There must be rules governing the gathering. A gathering without house rules is similar to throwing 22 people in a soccer field and telling them to play whatever game they want to play. Ensuing result – chaos and many dissatisfied guests.

As an example, go to any graduation and you can be sure to have a memory card full of images of people’s heads. Enthusiastic relatives jostling and dodging each other to take pictures of their loved ones. Milestones need to be celebrated, but there has to be order so that everyone is given a chance to celebrate theirs. Success does not have to depend on how fit you are in hogging that space right  infront of the podium.

There must be order to honor the ceremony. A wedding ceremony is one that keeps getting dishonored in PNG. This always happens when the newly wedded couple have to sign their marriage certificate.  The invited guests and parents, most times, elderly, have their view blocked off by a wall of media pads and camera phones wielded most times by children. What is the purpose of being invited to witness the ceremony when all that is in front of you are backsides?

A recent event of religious nature highlighted that even spiritual events need human interventions and should not be left to the leading of the spirit.

In contrast, consider the latest event in Port Moresby.

Praises rang to high heavens for the last event the 15th Pacific Games. There was order and there was ceremony.

The spectators were happy, the athletes left happy, the volunteers exhausted, but glad to have been part of the machinery that made the games a success.

Why was that so? All the events and proceedings were planned. From toilets, to watering thirsty volunteers to bus arrangements. The steps from start to end was intended then enforced to guarantee order.

Event planning serves a number of purpose. First it ensures order and ceremony for the pleasure of the host. Second, it is respect and honour for the event – whatever it may be. Third, an orderly event is a show of respect and honor to your guests, who must be pleasured for turning up. Fourth, a planned event identifies and either removes or minimizes any threats and indemnifies the host from any liability from the actions of guests.

There are people called event planners who are dedicated to ensuring just that. But it can be easily done by anyone. All it requires is a pen, paper and your forward thinking cap. And  one can only get better, like driving, the more you do it, you become better at it.

That is why your next party needs an event planner.  If not you, then find someone who can.

What should be our research priorities in conservation?

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PNG as a wilderness area contains unique landscapes, undiscovered genetic potential and endemic plants and animals. The ecosystems play a vital role in the maintenance of global health.

However, this wilderness area and the biodiversity it contains are threatened by over-exploitation, pollution and destruction. The threat is magnified by the lack of information on what is in this wilderness area.

Conservation is a must, however, in the face of this urgency and with limited resources – what will be our priority?

Do we focus on ecosystems so that we preserve the process that support the biodiversity which indirectly is the protection of biodiversity, or do we focus on species – the traditional conservation unit, or do we focus on the evolutionary connection of species by studying the genetics?

Do we focus on taxonomy or the ecological relatedness of the biodiversity or the biology of the species? What about policy and related conservation laws? What about the interaction between humans and nature?

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