Defence Force unprepared for natural disasters

National

Emergency controller Dr William Hamblin says the Papua New Guinea Defence Force (PNGDF) is completely unprepared to respond quickly to natural disaster.
“And it is more expensive to engage the PNGDF than to engage private contractors, especially for civil works,” he said.
Hamblin told the NBC Press Club in Port Moresby yesterday that PNGDF was the country’s last hope in terms of national crisis.
“It should be the core agency to assist in any relief exercise. Under Section 202(c) of the Constitution, it has a duty to provide assistance to civilian authorities in a civil disaster,” Hamblin said.
“Unfortunately, the PNGDF is completely under resourced to assist in a national emergency and has developed at its core a fundamental public service ethos.
“It has lost the concept that should be embedded in any defence force.”
Hamblin said the PNGDF had no equipment like barges, earth-moving machinery, helicopters and vehicles to assist in the disaster relief efforts in Western, Gulf, Southern Highlands, Hela and Enga provinces.
“The PNGDF is completely unprepared to assist in an emergency. And I stress that this is not the fault of the PNGDF but successive government’s that have devaluated its worth to the nation by downsizing and then underfunding its operations.”
Hamblin said the 7.5 magnitude earthquake on Feb 26 that affected the provinces, exposed weakness in the National Disaster Management Act.
“What the disaster had demonstrated was clear weaknesses in data collection and the nil-coordination between the National Disaster Centre and the emergency controller,” he said.
“Also the Act needs to be amended for the national government to respond swiftly to areas affected by natural disasters in the future.”
Hamblin said the National Disaster Centre (NDC) needed to have an effective disaster assessment mechanism as part of disaster response.
“The current system where the NDC sends out its staff to assess conditions is time-consuming, costly and totally ineffective,” Hamblin said.
“A system whereby districts and church agencies send in reports might be more effective but once again these reports might be influenced by prevailing political and cultural conditions.
“Options to collect assessment data electronically also exist. Assessment reporting mechanisms is one area where the United Nation agencies could provide some valuable advice.”
Hamblin said a trust account was needed to be established with relevant signatories so that money could be legitimately spent creating an audit trail.
“This requires the finance minister to sign a trust deed and a bank account with signatories to be established. When this is done, then money could be transferred to the account,” he said.
Hamblin said that under the current Disaster Management Act, he could not use his emergency powers to acquire food stuff.
“I, therefore, had to cajole suppliers into providing K2 million worth of food and water in advance of payments. It was not an easy task,” he said.
Hamblin said that he had prepared a discussion paper concerning emergency management in Papua New Guinea.
“The Government will be reviewing the paper with a view to adopting recommendations to improve systematic weaknesses in emergency relief provision.”

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