Driving to fear in Mekeo land

Weekender

LIFESTYLE

By PHILOMENA SALIAU
I TOOK a trip home to Veifa’a Village in the Bereina District of Central a few weeks ago and was terrified by the bumpy ride but that was normal for regular commuters.
The vehicle was limping from side to side and the tall betel nut trees along the sides appeared to be swaying half way to the ground and back up again which made my heart pump faster than ever before. With eyes open wide and lips tight I was silently praying and my crossed fingers waiting to see what would happen next. I was going home but it was more like a matter of life and death.
But the sense of fear was not felt by the other travelers on the PMV. They continued on with their eating, drinking, playing music on boom boxes amidst loud laughter as if there was nothing serious going on.
The road from Bereina junction to Veifa’a village has deteriorated over time and there are many big pools along the way which only experienced drivers can maneuver around.
Those drivers who are too scared to try terminate their trips at Inawi village so inland villagers will have to hike the rest of the way home. Inawi, home of our Kairuku-Hiri MP Peter Isoaimo, is where inland villagers await PMVs to travel to Port Moresby with their loads of betel nut, bananas, mustard and coconut.
The inland Mekeo passengers usually walk for hours to reach their destination, carrying their produce to sell at specific markets and return home with bags or cartons of food items and store goods.
This has been their story for many years. Nothing much has changed to improve the road condition. A villager and regular passenger shared her concern saying: “Many times we break simple traffic rules like overloading because there is no support from the Government. It is only during election time that we see a lot of good candidates appearing from everywhere making empty promises to relieve the community’s burdens and improve livelihoods. At the end of the day the Mekeos are still struggling to make ends meet by travelling on bumpy roads and carrying cargo to Inawi village along the Hiritano Highway to do businesses in town.”
The bad road condition has also stopped public servants like teachers and health workers to apply for posts in Mekeo. Apart from the Catholic missionaries, currently, most public servants there are from Mekeo or people married to the Mekeo tribe who are used to the same culture of doing things. We want to have people from Papua New Guinea with quality knowledge and skills to contribute to improving our education and health standards but this can’t happen due to the bad road condition.
The bad state of the road has in some sections is forcing PMV drivers to go through private properties and pay a fee for doing so. I have also learnt from sources in my village that even a child can stand on the road and stop a PMV and ask for a fee. I wonder if this is an expression of landowner rights or the beginning of social problems.
Bicycles
Bicycles are also used as a form of transport in Mekeo and that helps people in their daily activities in transporting market goods as well to Inawi village along the main highway. If Port Moresby is closer to Mekeo than it is, bicycles can be really handy for travel into the city when PMVs cannot make it. But we need PMVs to travel on a good road into the villages.
Health services lacking
Inland Mekeo villages such as Inawauni, Rarai, Amoamo and other villages past Veifa’a have been hit hard during the wet season. Flooding has turned the roads into big pools streams. Vehicles cannot go there in the peak of the wet season. Women and children are most affected and there are no health centers in operation apart from Veifa’a health center. The only doctor in Veifa’a commits her loyal service to the community and country. She has made attempts to visit patients in the Inland Mekeo by walking using the tracks and saving lives of sick patients or pregnant mothers.
She is loyal and loves her job but only a good road will make here efforts easier and faster.
Central Governor Robert Agarobe has recently endorsed a spot gravelling contract for the road but work has not commenced . The weather is also unpredictable and we don’t know whether that project would eventuate soon or not.
Most of what I have shared and what needs to be done to improve community livelihoods along the Bereina junction to Veifa’a village and the entire inland Mekeo area has already been captured in a report by a freelance consultant Francis Powih Saliau in 2017.
In that report he had highlighted the need to improve the roads, education services ,health services, rural electrification, building a water dam, starting SME’s projects, addressing social problems, building good houses and conducting feasibility studies for the construction of a water wall to divert the Angabunga river away from the villages.
The flash floods occurred some months in 2018 after his assessment and report. After producing his report to the Oxfam Port Moresby office in 2017, village councilors, president, and chiefs for viewing and funding assistance nothing has happened since.
Any person from Bereina District or any interested organisation wishing to have a look at the report can contact him on [email protected]