By MAUREEN GERAWA
RISING sea levels that force coastal people away from their traditional villages are not the only risks associated with climate change in this country. There are food security issues – hunger and malnutrition due to erosion of good soil and disturbances in the river system due to high sedimentation affect the source of food for people that rely on rivers.
Furthermore, in some parts of the highlands region, some people say they cannot grow some food crops due to the extreme change in weather patterns; it’s warmer than it used to be. Diseases like malaria are also becoming prevalent as the mosquitoes are now able to survive the once too-cold climate in the highlands.
Despite all these, there is almost no action being taken by the authorities in this country to address climate change issues.
The numerous meetings on this global challenge, attended by government officials seemed to have produced no tangible activities on what needed to be done to address or lessen the impact of climate change.
People expect the government to guide the way on what needs to be done to alleviate the difficulties being experienced because of climate change.
In East Sepik, however, a small group of Papua New Guineans led by teacher-cum-climatologist Lawrence Dominic are determined to do something.
In the past 15 years, they have toiled without outside support; researching and conducting surveys on risks associated with climate change in the province.
The risk assessments have been looking at communities and the increased vulnerabilities they face in terms of natural disasters, diseases, availability of food and water, human settlements on low-lying islands, agriculture, and the ecosystem.
From this work, a total of 20 documents have been completed, including proposals on climate change mitigation and adapation projects. These include reforestation of eaglewood, eco-tourism, conservation, food security (sago plantation and factory, rice, horticulture, livestock), alluvial mining, cocoa, rubber, wetlands (fish and prawns cageing and crocodile farming, mangrove rehabilitation), arts and crafts museum and cultural filming. The plan is to pilot these projects in East Sepik’s Murik Lakes, Gawi Tribe, Chambri Lakes and Karawari.
The project on eaglewood will be piloted in Central ( Koiari), West Sepik (Nuku, Aitapi and Lumi) and Manus ( Kawaliap village and Teditu).
Trained at Florida University in the United States, Dominic is the founder of Ldeecho, a local non-government organisation, which to date has not received financial support from any organisation, not even the East Sepik provincial government, although the former governor, Sir Michael Somare, promised financial support.
In the last three years, Kundiawa-based dental surgeon Simon Niempery and his family have been helping keep “things afloat” for Dominic, even taking to Port Moresby to talk to the authorities about what he is doing.
Recently, some overseas companies have indicated their willingness to help, but have yet to decide what to do. An Australian firm, for instance, is interested in the construction of a road iseawalls in Karawari.
A young Papua New Guinean environmental scientist working with NCDC’s physical planning division, who provides advice and moral support to Ldeecho, says there needs to be more done to combat climate change and its effects.
“The country knows about climate change. There is also the Office of the Climate Change and Development Authority. If Ldeecho can come up with these climate-adaptation projects, the government should support him,” he said.
The young man (who does not want to be named) said “this project will benefit the country because these (activities) can be set up in other parts of the country. It is also in line with the seven pillars of Vision 2050 and the Sustainable Development Goals’’.
Dominic said the surveys have found that like eaglewood, sago palm is also a “high carbon sinker’ which is why the air in the swamps is usually fresh and feels better.
The eaglewood project is being taken up by Arafudi Eagle Wood Limited, a local company based in Karawari. Under this project, 500,000 seedlings of eaglewood have been distributed to farmers to plant and intercrop with other trees like cocoa.
The native tree was in danger of extinction because of over harvesting through illegal trading. Currently, a super grade 1kg eagle wood is worth US$6000.
In a farm of 1000 trees, one can harvest 486 kilograms of wood, providing an income of more than K2 million.
Long-term, the experience being gained on climate change mitigation and adaptation projects in East Sepik will be shared with the rest of the country. If it is not on eaglewood, it can be on rice farming or fish and prawns cageing to alleviate hunger, and mangrove rehabilitation to help lessen the impact of rising sea levels.
The list is long.
- Maureen Gerawa is a freelance