Climate Change, Water Wars Warning!

Countries may fight international wars over oil, but local wars can be started over drinking water because life needs water to survive.

Rausim OBE Long PNG

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Adversity is the mother of invention

climate pacific

I go online to check how my Pacific leader are representing me at the COP 21 and I am disappointed. Our leaders are playing the victim.

We are drowning, someone save us, cries Samoa. We will be under water soon , says Kiribati. No tears of self-pity from PNG, but a big demand: the people responsible for climate change must pay.  We  did not do it, whoever caused this climate change, own up and pay. We need the money to save 80% of rural based population.

The only positive call for action comes from  the Marshall Islands. Let us take some action, their leader says.

Those of us in the Pacific are acting like victims. Indeed we are victims  by virtue of by being in the forefront of this global climate change. We are feeling the brunt of the warming atmosphere. But therein  also is our opportunity to be victors.

Being in the front means we have first hand experience of this phenomenon  – we experience it at our doorstep and know it back to front and inside out. This  knowledge can be turned on its head to become an opportunity for positive change.

This adage rings true for the pacific at this time “adversity is the mother of invention”. The mother of invention has now settled here in the pacific. This is the time for the tropics to use this adversity to innovate and contribute meaningful inventions and interventions of adapting to this global phenomenon. 

But what are we doing? We wring our hands and look at America and others  from the temperate countries to come and fix our tropical problems.  That is very silly. Indeed they can supply the scientific knowledge, but adapting this knowledge to our situation is up to us.

Instead of playing the victim and shifting blame, the Pacific must take the stance  Marshall Island has taken – we must stand together and take charge of the spotlight and come up with the solutions that the world needs to adapt to climate change. We must make a start because the earth is not going to get cooler anytime soon. Here and now is the opportunity for the Pacific to become the leaders in climate change adaptation.

Once we show leadership, resources will flow. The world is morally obligated to put their money and resources to where it is needed and all we need to do is quit playing the victim and show more  leadership.

The difference between a victim and a victor is not in the size of economy rather it is a matter of perspective. The organ for changing perspectives is between the ears. Change your mind and change your life, is probably one of the most used adage in the pacific, but do we believe this at the level of national governments? We have our answer from the COP21.

Anything is possible, we just need to frame our challenge differently, we need to approach challenges as opportunities for improvement. Only then can we realize the opportunities that come dressed as adversity.



Starvation is not the death threat, dis-ease is.

IMG_0065 copyAccording to statistics collected after the 1997 El Nino in Papua New Guinea and reported by Bang et al (2003), a total of 1.2 million people suffered from severe food shortages. The two regions most severely impacted were the Highlands with 169,000 and the Southern region with 62,000 people with almost no food available locally.

Water supply was reduced to critical levels throughout the country. Ponds, wells, creeks and smaller rivers dried up, but larger rivers continued to flow, although at much reduced levels. In many places, available water sources became contaminated, sometimes because wild and domestic animals used the same water source as humans and partly because on islands and coastal areas seawater infiltrated normally fresh water supplies.

Loss of life was recorded within the drought period. Most of these deaths were in rural areas than urban areas and affected more children and the elderly  ((Igua 2000), Lemmonier (2000)).

 Lemmonier (2000), an anthropologist working with the Ankave-Anga in the remote mountains of Kerema  reported 80 deaths from the two years of drought. The deaths reduced the population of this remote mountain people by 20%.

According to the author, the mortality was due to diseases such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, malaria and dysentery that attacked people whose body was already made weak by diminished caloric intake.

And in his observation,  “people who were accustomed to drinking directly from watercourses with pure water were forced to drink from pools of polluted water. This was probably responsible for the epidemic that decimated the people from Ankave- Anga, perhaps due to typhoid.” (Pierre 2000).

Similar sentiments were expressed in other post 1997 El Niño reports which were presented at a food security conference held in the year 2000 at the University of Technology, Lae.  A copy of the conference proceedings containing all the important lessons learnt can be accessed here.

From the experience, what can we do to help?

First and foremost is to look after human health. A diminished intake of calories and a reduction in the variety of food depletes the body of essential minerals and vitamins. This will cause the body to become weak and succumb to dis-ease.  Old people and young people, pregnant women and people with a compromised immune system are especially vulnerable and must be protected.

A practical step will include a change in the daily routines. The vulnerable group must be protected from over exertion. Any hard work must be scheduled for the cooler parts of the day. Even the strong must innovate to avoid over exertion to preserve energy.  The hottest parts of the day must be used for other meaningful activities, for instance, the creative arts (e.g. making bilum or clothes or making beads and carvings) to sell for money.

All food must be cooked well before consumption. And attention must be given to maintaining a high level of personal hygiene.

Second is the protection of water sources. It is important to protect water sources and this includes protecting coconut palms for their nuts and juice.

Even if big rivers keep flowing, the flow would be reduced, and the water would be warmer thereby encouraging algal bloom. Algae in waterway can contaminate drinking water as well as cause skin diseases. Furthermore, in the absence of a good hygiene or good information on hygiene, it is easy for humans to contaminate water sources leading to a spread of disease.

Water wells in lowland may dry up or get an intrusion of salt water rendering it, undrinkable.

Water sources must be protected, even if that means erecting strict rules around water sources. Any human waste must be put into a toilet to avoid contamination of water sources. Animals must be watered away from the human drinking water source. Most importantly, all drinking water must be boiled.

Minimal water intake over long periods of hot days can result in dehydration. Death from dehydration happens sooner than death by starvation.  An essential first aid is the Oral Rehydration Sachets (ORS). The small one dose sachet contains minerals, salts and sugar that must be mixed with water and drank as a  first aid dehydration treatment. Any person can buy their own supply since ORS is very cheap and sold in all pharmacies.

In a drought, it is also advisable to remove any liabilities. This may include selling extra animals for money and use that cash to buy food and medicine.

Apart from the disease outbreaks. Law and order will be an issue. 1997 reports show an increased migration out from affected areas. Mostly from the badly affected high altitude areas down to the lower valley, towns and even distant cities.  Stealing to survive, both in the rural areas as well as in towns will increase (Kiza and Kin 2000).  People must be extra vigilant. When faced with a decision to defend loss of property from theft, the best option would be that which uses less energy.

During the last drought, there were hungry and thirsty people, but few died from starvation (Barter, 2000). Most deaths were from diseases. Therefore it is important to look after the health of people in this El Nino season.

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.

Mangrove Planting for Climate Change



Mangrove as a tool in addressing climate change gained prominence after the East Asia Tsunami in 2004. The tsunami generated in the Indian Ocean, ravaged coastal communities facing the Indian Ocean taking many lives and damaging infrastructure worth a lot of money.

Anecdotal evidence show that villages situated behind mangroves stands, sustain less damage when compared to those communities without mangrove barriers.

In the absence of technological intervention, Climate Change Experts identify mangroves as the first protection for coastal villages facing coastal flooding and extreme high tide.  Mangrove projects can be easily implemented by communities. Mangrove planting and rehabilitation costs less than other technological interventions and has been shown to be effective in saving lives and property.

What makes mangroves special?

Like any other tree species, the mangroves take 10-15 years to mature before they can provide the desired effect. Mature stands of mangrove act like a porous fence that slows down wave energy by reducing the velocity of the waves into and out of communities resulting in less damage infrastructure and livelihood.


Mangrove planting or mangrove forest rehabilitation must be approached as a long term strategy with the goal of ensuing planted and or rehabilitated mangrove stands become mature stands in the future.

Current practice involves planting of plant mangrove seedling in areas already under threat from the rising sea level. Numerous mangrove replanting exercise have never attained the envisaged success – this is despite the common  knowledge that young mangroves at waterfront are vulnerable to wave action and are easily uprooted and killed by the sun and the salt.

Ideally a mangrove replanting exercise should duplicate a vegetation succession as happens in nature.

Vegetation succession at a beach normally starts from the forest edge and gradually grows seaward.

Firstly, pioneer species like vines and grasses grow first to help build a soil environment suited for succession to take place. Then the trees, starting with the terrestrial species at the forest edge. Once this has established then the back mangrove species is the next to germinate, followed by the middle mangrove species then finally, the front line mangrove species facing the foreshore.

Re-vegetation through succession enables the plants to gradually adapt to a salty growing substrate and increases their chances of survival.

The process of natural succession takes years, the same will apply to a successful mangrove planting project.

The communities that survived the East Asia Tsunami in 2004, did not plant their mangrove stands the year prior to the tsunami. The mangrove stands have existed and protected, probably not intentionally, but importantly , the mangrove stands provided the needed protection.

While waiting for the mangrove forest to grow , the most cost effective climate change activity is educating people about the impending crises and the options available for adapting to the change.  Local people do have solutions for their challenges. They must be involved in the quest for a solution.

For the donors who fund mangrove projects, they  must realize that the impact of mangrove planting can only be realized in the future. Therefore they must  look for other targets to measure how their funds in the short term  is successfully addressing the climate change challenge.

Forgive us our sins against the birds

cassowary_3Birds have been in the center of human attention since the dawn of time. The birds have inspired human cultures – from adornment, to dance moves, to habits. Birds as food is well-documented in human historical archives. Birds have even found a place in religion – immortalized in songs, stories, and rituals. Bird figurines are fashioned from precious stones, carved into wood, shaped out of a rock, molded into glass and even beaten onto metal. Some models are miniature replicas, others like the Nazca  hummingbird outline in the Peruvian desert is close to 100 meters in length and can only be seen from the air.  The modern technological feat of air travel has its source of inspiration in birds.

Once upon a time, beautiful and exotic bird feathers had their price weighed in gold and were traded alongside spice and precious metals. From high couture to indigenous culture, bird feathers has been and is still being used as a significant dress accessory.

Apart from satisfying human values, birds also serve important ecological function. Birds carry pollen from flower to flower ensuring seed production.  The birds even disperse seeds across the landscape that eventually grows into trees in the forest.

Selective harvesting of the best looking bird to satisfy human desire has caused certain bird populations to decline. Through natural selection over time, the brightest bird with the handsomest feather is also the possessor of good genes. Selectively removing the best birds removes the good gene from the gene pool.

With anti-pouching laws in place, extinction through harvest had been minimized. The main threat on birds these days is anthropogenic activities that destroy the habitat of the bird. Logging is one such destructive activity. Logging obliterates the home of the birds and destroys their food source, and in turn paves the way for increased predation.

Climate change, an anthropogenic driven change to the world climate is driving birds up the altitude and when there is no more space, the birds go over the edge. Extinction is inevitable. When that will happen is just a question of time.

Locking birds in aviaries is not a substitute for preservation. If animal indeed do have rights, then keeping birds in aviaries is a crime.   Birds are born to soar into the heavens but aviaries clip the wings of these birds and subdue their instinctive need for depth and breadth in space.  Studies have identified that most tropical bird species are nomads or transient species and move within  certain latitudinal gradients over a large area following availability of food.

In a mixed flock aviary, a number of birds are put into a single aviary. In the wild, these birds would not normally associate. In nature some of these birds occupy space at the top of the canopy while others in the mid canopy and others in the understorey. This division is a function of adaptation to minimize competition. At the different levels, the micro-climate is also specific for the insect, fruits and small plants found in that layer – which in turn is food for the birds. An aviary does not take that into consideration.

Birds in aviaries are fed a standard diet of fruits. Even if all are frugivores, some species feed on insects for extra nutrients. Others have been seen in the wild to practice geophagy – or soil eating for its mineral and salt content. The feathers of birds serve special function including advertisement of fitness, health, sexual fitness, camouflage and even stealth. Colored features are not grown but are the result of ingesting the colors from the food that is eaten.  Being fed a standard diet compromises the integrity of fitness advertisement.

Some birds need to remain in a group for competition to ensure the fittest genes are selected. For instance, the lek in Bird of Paradise is done by a group of male birds and never done by individual birds. Furthermore, without the required environment, a bower-bird may not be able to build required dance area to entice the female.

Just like humans, a reduction in personal space results in different psychological issues. Aggression, depression are two main ones. But changes can happen at the cellular level that affects other functions like mating rituals, reproduction and even the responsibility of rearing chicks.

At the end of the day, when humans finally meet the maker of the birds, we will be found guilty of all the bad things we have done against the birds.

BOOK REVIEW: Adapting to a Changing Environment: Confronting the Consequences of Climate Change

Book coverBook Title: Adapting to a Changing Environment: Confronting the Consequences of Climate Change (2011) by  Tim R. McClannahan, Senior Conservation Zoologist with the Wildlife conservation Society and Joshua E. Cinner, Senior Research Fellow at the James Cook University.

The book is focused on the Western Indian Ocean Communities. These communities depend on fisheries and coral harvesting to sustain a livelihood. Some communities have over-harvested their coral reefs.  Climate change is causing waters in this part of the world to heat up affecting the source of their livelihood. This book analyses the state of their environment and the adaptive capacity of the people to withstand the impacts of climate change.

The book contains eleven (11) chapters. The first six chapters contain excellent background on impacts of climate change. Chapter 7 and 8 contain instruction on how to build an adaptive capacity model. Chapter 9 and 10 describes the social and ecological adaptation. Chapter 11 – talks about the future and how to confront the consequences of climate change.

This book is recommended for practitioners interested in helping communities adapt to the changing climate.

Chapters of Interest

The chapters of interest are chapter 7-10.

To identify the adaptive capacity of communities to climate change the authors measured the environmental and social attributes that predisposes communities to impacts of climate change.

Adaptive capacity is the flexibility with which communities can cope with changes. Adaptive capacity  of the people in the West Coast of Africa was measured by measuring the communities (i) flexibility to switch between livelihood strategies (ii) Social organization (iii) Learning – recognizing change and taking advantage of the change or adapting  (iv) Assets – the resources to draw on in times of change.

Data collection for this exercise involved extensive surveys. What is missing in the book is the survey to collect adaptive capacity data and the kind of information that was collected.   Environmental health was measured by surveying the health of the coral reef.

Data analysis was done using the Analytical Hierarchy Process (AHP).  AHP is one of the multiple criteria decision-making methods. AHP provides measures of judgment consistency by deriving priorities among criteria and alternatives and then simplifies preference ratings among decision criteria using pairwise comparisons.

The analyzed data was then mapped into a 4 quadrat planning graph. Depending on where the communities fell in the quadrat given their environmental health versus the adaptive capacity, the planners can then develop locally appropriate strategies to address the challenge of climate change.

graphThe heart of the book is this graph which identifies and explains what action communities should take to help them adjust to climate change depending on which quadrat the community falls in.

For instance, when both Adaptive Capacity and Environmental health of a community is high, the intervention is in quadrat C. The activities of the community must be toward transforming and managing the health of their environment, while the ability of the people to look after themselves must be preserved and enforced.

On the other hand, when both environment health and adaptive capacity is low, the prescribed intervention is in quadrat A. The environment needs relief immediately which means that it must be left alone to recover, while the adaptive capacity of the people must be built.

The more adaptive the community , the more flexibility they have to adjust to changes in the environment.

In the last chapter, the authors discuss the merits of the method. They encourage nested efforts in addressing adaptive capacity issues in communities. At the very top of the nested effort is the international community, followed by the government, then the sub-national government and at the core is the local scale where the project is happening.  This is to ensure accountability when it comes to implementation.

The authors however caution that adaptation measures can potentially create unintended and unforeseen consequences on other social and natural systems creating uncertainty about the outcomes of AC. In an attempt to build adaptive capacity, social equity must also be taken into consideration. Excluded communities can undermine efforts to build adaptive capacity in chosen communities.

This model is a one-off tool. Ideally this exercise must be repeated within 4/5 years to measure the changes that have taken place.   It is costly to run this exercise in the field because it requires stringent data collection. The data collected must be in a format that can be analyzed by the AHP.

Application to Papua New Guinea

The adaptive capacity model is a helpful planning tool because it identifies environmental health and human capacity as the two factors that can be used to measure community capability to respond to impacts of climate change.

The model identifies the ideal situation then analyses the current situation, then detects the deficiency in the system. Once that is done, it becomes easier to identify interventions.  The interventions can then be turned into project activities.

The challenge of using this model is proponents will need to work out a method for data collection, and then identify the kind of information that must be collected.

Logically this is a project that must be undertaken by the government through its designated authority dealing with Climate Change.

It may work at District level and above for several reasons.  First, districts are a planning unit in the PNG system and therefore, planning for adaptive capacity can happen at that level. Second, districts have a budget and this may be the way to get the commitment by the governments to systematically address the interventions identified.  Third, the provincial government and the National Government are the levels of government that can ensure that such plans are implemented. This fits in with the nested level of implementation. Such projects require investment of money and infrastructure – all of which are the responsibility of all the levels of government.

The danger however, is this exercise may become just one more planning exercise. If there is no follow-through, this may become a waste of time and resources for both the planners and the people. The local people may become disillusioned because they would have identified the interventions, but lack the tools and the capacity to implement those activities.

Planning is a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy

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)

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