BY MARTYN NAMORONG
JAMIE NAMORONG TRAVELLED TWO DAYS by land and sea to get to Daru Island. He then made a treacherous 36 hour journey from Daru to Port Moresby aboard MV Sunset. He brought with him a bag of stories about the dire state of affairs of the South Fly District of Western Province.
The District of South Fly shares its borders with Australia and Indonesia. As Jamie made his way from the inland savannah to Daru, he travelled south from Malam village to Kurinti village.
This was a day’s walk through savannah woodland, monsoonal forests and swampland. The exhausting journey ended at the headwaters of the Pahoturi River where, after a night’s rest, his party departed from Kurinti down the Pahoturi, paddling a dinghy.
The obvious need hardly be mentioned: transport links in the South Fly are pretty primitive. Women carrying babies and cargo negotiate precarious single-log bridges in the jungle. Patients have to be stretchered to aid posts and sub health centres that do not have proper equipment and drugs.
Many die and are never taken back home for burial due to the distance and risk of decomposition. Such has been the case for villagers from Dimisisi village who succumbed to illness at Upiara sub-health-center and have been buried at the nearby villages of Kondobol and Bok.
Western Province is home to a major public health catastrophe where in 2010 around 300 lives were lost to cholera. Most of the victims were children and the elderly from South Fly.
Public health woes continue to give a nasty headache to Queensland health Authorities who have to cope with the patients who flock to Saibai Island, in search of better Health services. Multi-drug resistant tuberculosis continues to pose a major threat to the population.
Despite its rich natural resources and the existence of the Ok Tedi mine that has bankrolled Papua New Guinea, Western Province continues to lag behind in most aspects of development. The largest shareholder of Ok Tedi, the PNG Sustainable Development Company, has failed in its fiduciary duty towards the people of South Fly.
Despite media reports put out by PNGSD that it had committed K26 million in 2006 towards the rehabilitation of Daru, it wasn’t until the 2010 cholera crisis that the terms of reference were handed to Water PNG, who run the Daru town water supply.
Since 2010 no work has been undertaken on the ground in Daru. Staff and students at Daru High School use well water for washing and cooking, during Daru’s regularly regular water outages.
The people of South Fly have looked to Waigani for salvation. The silence for 37 years has been deafening while they face the consequences of environmental degradation of the Fly River, created by Waigani and Australian miner BHP.
“We are so close to Australia yet so far away from Australia,” says high school teacher Jag Inkharm, as he laments the development gap between the Torres Strait Islanders and their kinsmen in PNG.
Daru currently does not have a functioning prison nor does it have specialist medical officers or registrars to attend to patients. Poor working conditions and ongoing politicking over senior health positions have adversely affected the delivery of health services.
The derelict state of the town is an eyesore. Tweeting from Malam village, community health worker David Sige wrote; “Staff at Wipim health centre abandoned services, leaving people to suffer.”
The consequence of this neglect has resulted in the proliferation of illegal cross border trade with Indonesia. Bech-de-mer illegally bought on Daru Island is now exported through the porous border to Merauke in Indonesia. Banana boats service this illegal trade in bech-de-mer, deer antlers and contraband goods.
The challenge of getting communities to engage in development discussions is now taking shape thanks to social media and mobile phones. Twitter accounts linked via text messaging have been set up for villagers in remote corners of South Fly.
The villagers send a 140 character SMS that gets posted automatically to their Twitter accounts and also receive news from Papua New Guinea centered Twitter accounts like @OurPacificWays.
One such Twitter user is Karl Ananga from Kondobol village, who tweeted; “The provincial administration problem in Western Province is really dragging on service delivery to the people of Western.”
The ‘provincial administration problem’ that Karl refers to is the dispute over the appointment of the provincial administrator that is plaguing the province. Such lack of leadership at the provincial level has failed not just the people of South Fly but the whole province.
Obviously, social media alone will not solve South Fly’s problems however they serve as an enabling mechanism for conversations to take place and for ideas to be spawned.
Social media also serve as an accountability tool for engaging communities in the political discourse. That has obviously been possible with the roll out of mobile telecommunications.
However South Fly villagers are not entirely pleased with the manner by which PNDSD rolled out the mobile towers. In most villages one can only send and receive text messages by climbing up a tree.
The people of South Fly have a blog that summarises their tweets and each post presents a collection of tweets related to a particular issue. Perhaps through social media Twitter users can get answers to questions posed in Kelly Gauwa’s recent tweet that read: “Water, infrastructure, roads & etc of Daru Town are real problems, why?” Perhaps the answers may start coming from the sky - not as divine intervention but Twitter messages via SMS