#Bougainville #PNG News: Environmental disaster is waiting to happen in Bougainville port

“The person, group or authority responsible for bringing in these supply and storage vessels must immediately get these vessels out of the old government wharf, out of Kieta and out of Bougainville waters.

There is an imminent risk and danger from all the signs and indications and from information from the security staff and some of the crew on the vessels that one or both vessels are developing leaks. The worst that will happen is for the vessels, especially the fuel supply vessel, Pacific Trainer, already under stress and in a state of disrepair, to sink where it is berthed. Both vessels are aged, rusting away and under stress and duress.”

Simon Pentanu Resident of Pok Pok Island

Bougainville News

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“The person, group or authority responsible for bringing in these supply and storage vessels must immediately get these vessels out of the old government wharf, out of Kieta and out of Bougainville waters.

There is an imminent risk and danger from all the signs and indications and from information from the security staff and some of the crew on the vessels that one or both vessels are developing leaks. The worst that will happen is for the vessels, especially the fuel supply vessel, Pacific Trainer, already under stress and in a state of disrepair, to sink where it is berthed. Both vessels are aged, rusting away and under stress and duress.”

Simon Pentanu Resident of Pok Pok Island

The environmental contamination and pollution from the leakages is already evident. It will destroy one of the most beautiful harbours in the world. It will affect the Kieta harbour shoreline, the shores…

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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.

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.

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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