Are we prepared for disaster?

Editorial, Normal

The National, Thursday 23rd May 2013

 “IF the Kapup River is not allowed to flow and Lake Ivae bursts its banks, the effect will be felt by all electorates. Five bridges are likely to be washed away.” 

This desperate plea was voiced by Lake Ivae disaster appeal committee chairman Komson Nick Kome yesterday in response to the snail-paced response to an impending natural disaster that is developing in Enga’s Lagaip-Porgera district.

A landslide caused a blockage of the aforementioned river and the resultant build-up of water is posing a clear danger to the communities downstream of the landslide. 

“Its spillover effects will impact on a lot of communities, business houses and the resource projects in the pro­vince,” Kome said. 

Speaking of resource projects, the Porgera gold mine may not be in the immediate vicinity of the affected site but one would think a disaster in the district could have a major impact on the mine. 

According to firsthand accounts, rising water levels has 

already covered hectares of food garden land, trees and houses. Livestock in the area had been moved to higher grounds. The potential for a widespread damage to food source is imminent. 

This is a chilling and yet frank warning to the authorities in that province to act with haste to address an environmental issue that could have a de­vastating effect on the inha­bitants of a district. 

The fact that Enga Governor Peter Ipatas and his administration do not seem to be acting with any urgency is something that should concern every Engan as indicative of the blasé attitude shown by many authorities to the matter. 

Kome travelled to Port Mo­resby last week to bring to the attention of the autho­rities the plight of his people and said emphatically that the blockage was a disaster waiting to happen. 

Thankfully nothing calamitous has occurred as yet and if fortune favours the people of Lagaip-Porgera, then help will arrive in good time to assess the danger and take preventative measures. 

Or, in a worst case scenario, people in the affected areas can be brought to safety with loss of property the only casualty from this situation. 

That being said, the whole affair has called into question the inability of provincial and national authorities to respond to disasters. 

Time and again whenever there is misfortune on a large scale, whether it is man-made and/or nature-related, our emergency services and disaster response mechanisms have always exhibited an inadequacy that is alarming, to say the least. 

There have been too many examples in the recent past that serve to highlight this shortcoming. 

Perhaps one obvious explanation is that the National Disaster and Emergency office lacks the resources to face these situations when they arise. 

If that is the case, which it most likely is, then the logical step to correct the pro­blem would be to be prepared in advance and to have in place containment, evacua­tion and rescue procedures in place. 

Money should be spent on slowly building up the capacity of provincial response units instead of the current reactive style of handling disasters. 

We hope that each pro­vince has some type of basic strategy for local police and medical personnel to deal with events of this nature – if not then at the very least they should be vigilant and ready to respond with some urgency. 

We only have to go back to recent tragedies that point to a need to be better prepared. The sinking of the mv Rabaul Queen off the coast of Finschhafen in Morobe was more a freak occurrence than something that resulted from human error. 

Still the warnings not to set out in the rough seas should have been heeded. That preventive measure was practically ignored and a terrible price was paid. But the res­ponse of PNG authorities was simply not good enough. 

The first craft to respond to the sinking vessel were fo­reign cargo ships passing in the immediate radius of the Rabaul Queen. 

Several Austra­lian aircraft and a helicopter were deployed by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority on a search and rescue mission within hours of the boat going down. 

Can we say we are able to offer our own citizens this kind of service? 

If the answer is no, then we need to make it so that Papua New Guineans can expect some kind of relief when the unforeseen and unfortunate occur. 

We hope relevant authorities take an affirmative action to address the Surinki situation before it becomes ano­ther statistic.