The National, Thursday April 14th, 2016
NATURE and especially water has a way of testing man’s engineering genius. Irrespective of how much money or how many man hours and technical know-how have been spent on a project, even the slightest leakage would ultimately spell disaster.
The Government and other aid donors have spent millions of kina on roads and bridges over the years but they have been routinely tested by nature.
The country’s wet season has routinely tested the workmanship of engineers in the roads and bridges around country. Recent rains and floods have again caused widespread damage throughout the country.
Some of the destroyed or damaged infrastructure may not have been in the news because they are in remote locations. However, when very important infrastructure such as the Highlands Highway, the Ramu Highway (Lae-Madang) and the New Britain Highway (Kimbe-Bialla) are affected, there is bound to be panic. These are very vital economic roads which cannot remain closed for even a few days.
Although the Department of Works has used whatever funding at its disposal to fix the damages along these roads, its actions are at best like band-aid solutions. The department has done its best over the years to provide what has been temporary quick fix repair work on roads. Permanent re-designing and construction has been lacking though.
This seems to be the case with the Ramu Highway, according to former Madang deputy governor Bob Watti who represents the worst affected part of that national road.
Wati reckons the highway which has deteriorated badly in the last few months needs to be re-engineered and constructed.
Sections of the existing road, especially the Ono mountain areas and sections at Usino are the worst spots, Wati said.
Continuous rainfall in the area was also preventing the national Works team from doing a perfect job on the road section.
We agree with the leader that a lot of money has been spent on this road annually since it was first constructed but because of the geography (or geology) of the road corridor, there have been many landslips and washed out sections. We need to re-think its design construction. The better option, however, is to go along with the proposed by pass around the mountains to Usino and onto the Gogol valley to reach Madang.
The Works Department has copped quite a lot of flak for its handling of emergency road works in the event of disasters like the current situations along the Highlands Highway and Ramu Highway.
There have been concerns raised by people in the know that the Government should provide more funding for the Department of Works to carry out timely maintenance work in the event of natural disasters. A continuing disaster response fund accessible to the Department of works would enable it to effectively attend to situations like what has happened along Highlands Highway.
In the absence of such funding, the Government through the Finance and Treasury departments must also be willing to expedite any funding request from the Works Department to undertake maintenance work on vital national infrastructure as and when it is required.
As it is, this seems not to be the case. We understand that requests by the Works Department for immediate funding from the Finance and Treasury departments have not been treated with the urgency they deserve.
We understand also that the Works department was given only half of what it has requested in its budget submission.
There has already been too much concentrated on the developing infrastructure in the main urban centres and it is now time to move resources to the rural areas. Port Moresby, Lae and Mt Hagen have had a lot of money spent on roads and other infrastructure already.
Such rapid development has also had an unfortunate social cost as well. Many families and small business have been made to give way for such development.
In National Capital District, the major road works have already forced settlers out and cut through residential and business premises.
Among those affected by these new road constructions is a 27-year-old woman living with disabilities.
The two bedroom house worth (then) K20,000 will soon be demolished for the new road that will link Konedobu with Tokarara.
The distressed father has appealed for assistance from the National Capital District Commission and the Community Development department but has not received any favourable response yet.