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Misinterpreting PNG: rhetoric, exaggeration & inequality

Natural disasters: have we not had enough lessons?

VolcanoKESSY SAWANG | The Papua New Guinea Woman

I send my heartfelt sympathies to our people of Hela, Southern Highlands, Enga and Western Provinces who have been affected by the earthquake and condolences to those who lost their loved ones.  May God comfort you through this ordeal

MADANG - At 3:44 am on Monday, 26 February 2018, the biggest earthquake Papua New Guinean has experienced, one of 7.5 magnitude, hit the Hela and Southern Highlands region.

So far over 100 people have lost their lives and the damage to public infrastructure, economic assets and the people’s land, villages and their way of life has been shattering.

This disaster came just a month after the Kadovar volcanic eruption in East Sepik that displaced over 700 people from their island.  In between, there was anthrax scare in Madang.

The PNG government’s lack of capacity, capability and preparedness for natural disasters and disease outbreak is very worrying.

A state of emergency was declared after the earthquake and the government swiftly approved a budget of K450 million for the disaster.  Was there proper assessment and planning? And we aren’t doing well financially, so I’m wondering about the financing source.

The US$19 billion PNG LNG facility was shut down. The company exports eight million tonnes of natural gas a year.  A closure of eight weeks, and it could possibly be more than that, is like turning off the cash tap for PNG. My thoughts are with the thousands of Papua New Guineans who are directly employed in the sector who will be affected.

During this critical time, the National Disaster Office, the command and control centre for disaster operations, was locked up by the landlord due to the non-payment of rent by the government.

I’m angry about the whole thing – especially about the long-term aspect of collaboration between the national and provincial governments in assisting the affected people. Is there a national disaster framework for dealing with the long term aspects of these dreadful events?

A good example of no proper long term plan is my family who were displaced by the Manam volcanic eruption and have been living in care centres for 14 years.

Whilst we faced unimaginable hardships for that long time, the government prioritised the welfare of ungrateful foreign refugees who had a nice roof over their heads, were fed three times a day and had access to clean water, yet still complained about living conditions.

My way forward for the government is to:

Build the capacity and capability of the National Disaster Office, both at headquarters and in the provinces, and re-establish it as a statutory authority with its own board.

Adequately fund the disaster management institution.

Develop a national disaster management framework and policy.

Set aside emergency funding that a reputable manager can administer according to set guidelines. Alternatively, establish a sovereign wealth fund and set aside some of this for emergency funding.

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