Communication concerns


IT is a concern that the National Disaster Centre is awaiting information from the Madang provincial government to assist further on the evacuation of islanders affected by the Manam volcanic eruption.
One would have thought that the two Government bodies would have immediately began regular communication with each other when the volcano began showing signs of erupting last month.
The volcano had started belching smoke and flames last month forcing the islanders who had moved back to the island to flee for safety.
On April 16, the ground shook every time there was a blast. It was then categorised a Stage Two alert by the Rabaul Volcanological Observatory, which advised authorities to prepare for evacuation. It has since been upgraded to Stage Three which requires evacuation to be carried out.
Some villagers left the island then on the three available dinghies while the rest were stranded due to fuel shortage.
A few days later, those still on the island started arriving in Bogia to be relocated to the Potsdam Care Centre.
Red Cross and World Vision were on hand to assist with tents, mosquito nets, blankets and cooking utensils.
Manam is a basaltic stratovolcano 7.5 miles (12 km) north of Papua New Guinea. Its first known eruption was in 1616. Since then Manam has erupted at least 30 times.
The volcano has been very active in the 20th century with 23 eruptions.
Thirteen local residents were killed during an eruption on Dec 3, 1996, when pyroclastic flows reached the village of Budua. In November 2004, a major eruption forced the emergency evacuation of over 9000 inhabitants of the island. Five people died during the eruption.
Life at the care centres has not been easy for the families with most complaining of food shortage and ethnic clashes with the mainlanders which forced them to move back to the island. The volcano erupted again on Sunday (May 14) – this time spewing out fire and ashes which could be seen from Bogia.
However reports coming out of Madang say the Madang Government and administration will only be responsible for the evacuation of people from Dugulava and Baliau villages because they say their return to the island was forced upon them by conflicts with the landowners of Bogia in 2010.
In the Melanesian context, coming from the Manam Island regardless of village or clan, most will regard themselves as wantoks or relatives.
So whatever had happened to the people from Dugulava and Baliau will also affect others as well, forcing them back to the island.
Other than that, the local disaster office in Madang must be commended for the swift response in organising the evacuation and food distribution at the care centre since April 16.
We say this because since we first reported the eruption on April 19, the follow-ups show the team on the ground including the Red Cross and World Vision are delivering all the assistance through a channelled network.
So we were stunned to find out the other day that much of the information or updates on the ground is not reaching the National Disaster Centre – which means there is a communication breakdown.
Surely there has to be a system in place of information and data collection that must be forwarded to NDC at the earliest for deliberation.
The National Disaster Management Plan can only be successful if there is communication between stakeholders.
In this disaster, the Government has allocated K31,000 for the evacuation of Manam islanders to the mainland and pay for food. It is awaiting more information on how to assist further.
While the national disaster centre is tasked with coordinating all disaster-related activities, in reality the budget, human resources and government commitment to the centre are insufficient to undertake risk reduction and response activities.
There is an annual contingency disaster response budget parked at Treasury which the centre can submit response proposals to be approved and funded. Hence, it is important for centre to be receiving constant updates so the committee can decide on the next cause of action.
The PNG’s Disaster Management Act needs to reflect the Government’s plan to dealing with disasters by integrating presentation and preparedness in its disaster management planning.
Only then, will the channel of communication become clearer for everyone to know the procedures.
Good communication and coordination, effective management and efficient implementation are the
key in dealing with such emergencies.

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