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.

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2 Comments

  1. August 29, 2015 at 7:32 am

    Well said!


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