Into the back page of EHP

Senator Reynolds and Minister Soloma cutting the ribbon to mark the commissioning of the six vehicles.
Senator Reynolds welcomed in front of the hospital with High Commissioner Bruce Davis (right) and Minister Soloma accompanied by Defence Secretay John Akipe.

THE geographical coordinates 6° 32’ 0” South and 145° 37’ 0” East had been deemed to be somewhere in the center of Papua New Guinea’s sovereign landmark.
Google search revealed that these satellite coordinates, point down towards 2,110 square kilometers of rugged mountains and narrow valleys, covered with dense tropical jungle.
When zoomed further in, the coordinates rest on the foggy peaks of those mountains that stand at an altitude of 5626 feet above sea level.
The terrains unfurled down into fast flowing rivers, only disturbed by few steep cliffs where it is noticeable that Mother Nature lived by her own laws.
This harsh landscape is home to the Okapa people, widely labelled as the back page of Eastern Highlands.
Local humor, in the people’s own charming way, portrays Nokondi as poetically sniffing its way around, depicting the electorate as a ‘snow-white’ back page; like a blank page, open to write on.
They say the back page is always the hardest to write for some stories have no ending.
Even back pages ceased to remain at the back and end up among the front pages when the story continues the search for its ending.
But that is a story for another time.
With a population just below 100,000 in 2011 census, Okapa is one of seven districts in the province with its central location, strategically holding the doorway to the districts of Lufa, Henganofi and Kainantu.
The last edges of these rugged terrains to the south dropped down into the flat plains of Purari River in the Gulf Province while the rocky ridges that outlined the boundaries of Chimbu crouched behind the mist to the west.
Despite being the back page, Okapa district still remains as a top producer of the world finest Arabica coffee and currently sits on the frontier of a recently identified ‘missing link’ road to connect Kerema in Gulf.
Giant potential for agricultural growth lies under the richness of this fertile outback and the link road would undeniably unlock a pristine economical corridor never charted before.
Few weeks ago I stood on the rugby field at Okapa district station, watching two PNGDF Bell 212 helicopters emerging from behind heavy fog that enclosed the nearby mountain ranges.
Around the field, different traditionally dressed singing groups danced to the beats of their kundu drums, their headdresses raised along with their voices in a welcoming epitome.
Cold winds echoed their entrancing tones through the valleys below before fading into the juddering sound of the approaching choppers.
Onboard was Australian Minister for Defence, Senator Linda Reynolds and Australia High Commissioner Bruce Davis on a friendly visit to Okapa district government station.
It was a special invitation by PNG Minister for Defence and Member for Okapa Saki Soloma who also flew in on the second chopper accompanied by Secretary for Defence Hari John Akipe.
Soloma said the invitation was for the senator to specifically visit Okapa district hospital and to discuss available possibilities for Australia and PNG to assist in enhancing the district service delivery mechanism through joint defence partnership programmes.
He said Okapa’s door was open to work in partnership with Australia through its Defence Cooperation Programme (DCP) as his people warmly embraced the wonderful history of friendship that PNG and Australia shared and it was in his heart to strengthen this relationship, not only bilaterally but as close friends.
Senator Reynolds did a full tour of the district hospital, smiling and talking to the local health workers as well as sick children and other patients, while checking out the infrastructure, medical equipment and supplies.
“I want this friendship with Okapa to go beyond Waigani and Canberra and beyond pen and paper,” Minister Soloma told Senator Reynolds.
He further invited her to officiate the cutting of ribbons to mark the commissioning of five new ambulances and a police vehicle for the district.
Soloma highlighted that his district would also be tapping into the ‘missing link’ road possibly through the PNGDF civic action programme which may unearth an untouched wealth buried among these rugged back pages.
Maybe it is true that the once back page often ends up among the first pages as the story continues the search to find its ending.
Only one thing is for sure, Okapa is on a journey to write the back pages.

  • Alexander Nara is the PNGDF public relations officer.

Road revives coffee in Jiwaka

GOOD rural road networks play a very important role in the lives of people and the country’s economy, delivering agricultural produce out to markets to bring in foreign exchange.
Rural people depend entirely on good roads to transport their cash crops out to markets in towns or cities to sell and earn an income.
On their return home, they go with truckloads of trade goods, hardware materials, and many other things needed back in their rural areas.
The World Bank understand the importance of rural roads in the highlands where coffee trees are grown and at the beginning of this year, it funded seven rural roads as a pilot project in the region.
Of these roads, three were in Jiwaka, two in Eastern highlands and another two in Western highlands.
The World Bank under its Productive Partnership in Agriculture Programme (PPAP) which was supported by the National Government and International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) made a big impact in the lives of people in these rural areas.
The Kuli tribesmen living in the Anglimp-South Waghi district of Jiwaka are now enjoying the benefits of the 5km Avi-Kamdika 5km road, one of the three in the province funded by the Work Bank and completed last month. About 13,000 people from six council are now using this road.
This link was constructed in 1980 when Jiwaka was still part of Western highlands but since then it was never maintained over the last 39 years until this year.
It was covered again by bush and remained a mere track when vehicles stopped using it.
The people who depended on this road were badly affected; they no longer transported fresh garden produce into markets, coffee plantations were run down, trade stores closed, and people died of curable sickness.
Economic activities in the area declined and there were hardly any cash flow.
The people walked more than three hours and crossed the Mamana and Kamdika rivers to get into Anglimp or Avi to catch buses into Mt Hagen city or traveled to Minj and Banz towns.
The people suffered badly in silence until the World Bank and Coffee Industry Corporation entered the area in February this year. There was an obviously relief when the World Bank announced that it had awarded a K2 million contract to EJ Sister Construction Company to build the road.

A section of the newly upgraded road at Kamdika village in the Anglimp-South Waghi district of Jiwaka. – Picture by Peter Pia.

The beneficiaries freely give away any developments along the corridor of the road and looked after construction workers.
EJ Sisters Limited which is based at Kindeng in Jiwaka wasted no time and start working on the road on Feb 4 this year and completed the job on Aug 4, exactly six months later.
According to project engineer and consultant Peter Pia, the road was completed on time and to high standard.
Pia, a civil engineer, said the same company last month completed major maintenance work on the 2.5km Wapip to Komda road in Tambul-Nebilyer district in Western highlands, funded by World Bank under the same programme.
He said that in Jiwaka, the other two rural roads funded were the Avi market to Avi School road and one in Nondugl district.
He said that the economic benefits of these roads would be realised in the long run and the government would be making millions of kina from coffee coming from these places.
These roads were built primarily to bring coffee and other agriculture produce out to market but they will also brings other benefits as well.
Pia said when the work construction began on the Avi to Kamdika road, people went into their old coffee blocks and start working on them by cutting down the bushes, pruning, making drainage, and replanting new coffee seedlings to replace old dying coffee trees.
He said the three coffee plantations namely Mukupi, Meka, and Raunraun were run down along with many coffee projects owned by the people but they were slowly being revived.
Pia said that Marape-Steven has Government made the right decision to prioritise the agriculture sector when taking office.
“I want to commend the Government for its decision to put money from the tax credit scheme into roads, it balances out well with the top priority on agriculture,” he said.
Pastor Tipang Wosae from Kamdika village thanked World Bank, IFAD and National Government for funding the road.
Wosae said that already 11 vehicles based in the village were carrying cargoe and passengers to and from towns every day.
“We no longer face transport problems like in the past; the good road that we have now encourage us to go back to our coffee and food gardens.”
He said that small bock holders and plantation owners were slowly reviving their run-down coffee projects which they had neglected in the past when vehicles could not drive up the disused road.
Many people were start operating trade stores as a result of the road.
“On behalf of my people I want to thank EJ Sister Limited for carrying out quality work on the road, it will last for many years to come,” the pastor said.


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