El Nino and the Millennium Development Goals

PIC01921.JPGThe current El Nino is showing why Papua New Guinea (PNG) will still struggle to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) into the future.

The MDG is a people based project. It measures the welfare of the people in achieving a certain standard of living . This is a human right of all people in the world regardless  of their status in society, wealth or influence. In other words, the successful attainment of the 8 goals of MDGs will happen when the poorest of the poor in the society achieves an improved life as per the 8 MDG goals.

Who then are the poorest of the poor in PNG?

Most reports identify three groupings. The first class, the working class and the grassroots.But there is actually four groups. The first are the rich who make about 10% of the population. Second, the people who serve the government system also known as the working class – this group makes the next 20%. Third group are the villagers, they make the largest group of about 60%. Last group are the drifters, the so-called vagabonds, the runaways from the village – this last group bring in the last 10%,  but membership in this group is increasing as we speak.

The first group is also the smallest group. The rich have money to buy goods and services required for an easy life. They have the option of going overseas to access better opportunities in education and healthcare.  In this group, one will mostly find political leaders and their cronies, landowners and expatriates who have infiltrated and mixed with the locals in the country.

Second is the working class. This group serve the government system. Teachers, nurses, doctors, bureaucrats to name a few.  Like an assembly line, these group trudge on daily like human robots, unthinking, unquestioning, undemanding, unchallenged, uninterested. The system rewards them just enough to keep them from going hungry and revolting. The minimal care in health system exists to remove unfit humanoids. The education system churns out more robots to quickly fill any gaps that appear.

The third are the villagers and they make the biggest proportion of the population. The government system is designed to serve the villager. In reality, the villager is so far removed from that system. they are invisible and remain the forgotten group. For survival in their little corners across the country, villagers depend on their own system – the most authentic system that has supported life for PNGeans since the dawn of time – family, kin, custom, barter. In good times, the villager has food, family and shelter and is content living a life with less cargo and little money.

The fourth group are the vagabonds, villagers who have drifted into urban areas for a better life.  These people shun the simple village life and desire the bright city lights. But it is not as easy as it looks, and these vagabonds quickly realize that they need money to satisfy their desires. They could work for money, but they most times do not have the qualifications.  They have no proper job, they pay no tax, but they are the most demanding from the government system. The one thing they have is time, and they are mostly labelled trouble-makers for using that time to cause mischief in the society. This lifestyle is perpetuated when children get born into this life.

When put under scrutiny, the third and the fourth groups make the statistics of poor people.  In good times, the villager lives a content life, but the vagabond life is one of constant struggle and hunger because of lack of cash and loss of support from extended kin.

Despite that, the vagabonds are in some way better off than the villager because there are many opportunities to earn money in a city. They may have access to running water and light, even if illegally connected. They can send their child to a school where the teacher is always present. They can depend on church groups and other well-meaning people to help them out, out of sympathy. Importantly, through hard work, these vagabonds have the opportunity to break out of their low status in society and advance in life – an opportunity not available to a villager.

In trying times, the vagabonds are lucky by virtue of their positioning themselves closer to the system so that they can punch a hole in the system to get some form of assistance to trickle down to them.

So what does El Nino have to do with the MDG?

Statistics exists to show that deaths were higher in the rural areas compared to urban areas during the last El Nino. The reason – the villagers were too far away from any government intervention. There was a lack of health services, no health worker, no medicine or the medicine and aid did not reach villagers in a timely manner.

There was also no information on how people could help themselves. There was also a lack of opportunities for the villager to raise the money needed to buy food and medicine.

The El Niño reveals the government shrugging off its obligations to its biggest constituent – the villager. It is a contradiction when money for development is earned from resources belonging to the villager, but no goods or services goes back to the village. The money is stuck in the urban areas to  maintain a system that is of no use to the villager during his hard times.

And so, the villager remains the poorest of the poor. If not for the natural disasters, they would remain invisible.  Instead of expressing embarrassment for failing their duty of care to their constituents, the government keeps on making budgets on how to spend money on new developments in the cities while leaving the charity groups to work with the villagers.

If the government wants to achieve the MDG it must understand this: anything good for the poorest of the poor is good for achieving the 8 goals of MDG and that is why PNG will never achieve the MDG targets until genuine effort is put into improving the lives of the villagers.

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