Disaster strikes Southern H’lands

Editorial, Normal

Then National, Tuesday 11th September, 2012

SIX districts in the Southern Highlands are currently in a state of emergency – a rain-induced calamity which threatens to set the province back into the doldrums.
Last Thursday after an intense period of rainfall, Kagua and neighbouring Erave as well as parts of Ialibu, Imbonggu and as far as Nipa and Kutubu in the west have been ravaged by floods.
Roads, the lifeline of not only the villages but the commerce of the province, have been cut off, inundated by rising water levels and made impassable.
Even airstrips that link the remotest corners of the province are unusable at this stage. Many lie under water still.
Landslips and other related changes to the geography and terrain of the affected areas have been reported.
The region’s major arterial route, the Highlands Highway, has been affected.
On the day news from the stricken areas reached the province’s administration, Governor William Powi boarded a flight to China to meet with Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, whose native Ialibu-Pangia has been badly affected as well.
Even though it seems an inopportune time for the provinces’ top leaders to be away, such is the unpredictability of nature.
Natural calamities will strike any time and so it pays to be prepared.
We cannot ignore the plight of the people and our focus must turn to what must be done to alleviate the distress and apprehension that besets the people of these districts.
The promptness and effectiveness of rescue and relief efforts carried out by state agencies is now of paramount importance. Of immediate concern now is to provide the displaced and homeless with shelter, security and food, clean drinking water and medical assistance where needed.
News of three children missing, feared buried in a mudslide, is just one of the harrowing tales to come out since the water levels rose past a critical level five days ago.
There could be more deaths.
It is likely that people are unaccounted for but the information has not been verified by any authority.
The Department of Works and Supply must be commended for their rapid response.
The initial fact-gathering and the assessment of the extent of the damage was carried out by workers on the ground.
Their attempts at getting a clearer picture of the situation will no doubt prove invaluable.
It is that initial assessment that has put the damage bill at K15 million.
It is that report which has prompted a variation in scope of work of a contractor undertaking work on the ground to be able to immediately begin the task of relinking Mendi and Kagua. It is that report which has paved the way for the K500,000 which acting Prime Minister Leo Dion is said to have approved for humanitarian relief assistance.
Unfortunately, the Works Department effort is limited to capital works and damage to infrastructure as it must.
Its assessment should have been accompanied by a broader assessment by the provincial administration. That strangely is still missing four days after the disaster and has hampered national response to the disaster in an informed fashion.
It is standard procedure for disaster assessment to be provided by the provincial administration to assist national efforts.
This latest disaster will also test the capacity of the National Emergency and Disaster Service to respond to a large-scale disaster.
The agency has struggled to be of use when needed most in the past but we hope that, with the nature of the latest catastrophe (on land), they will be able to have a bigger impact and help save lives and discharge their primary duties. 
Papua New Guinea, like any other part of the globe, is not spared from natural disasters.
As such, our state agencies have much ground to make up to attain a
standard of preparedness that is required in the preserving of human life and the protection of property, livestock and food supplies when the elements wreak havoc.
We repeat an opt repeated line in this space: The disaster and emergency response ability of this country is very much in need of overhaul all round.