Josephstaal deaths only tip of an iceberg

Letters, Normal

I APPRECIATE your editorial of Jan 6.  Since being elected in 1992 I have been very much aware of the poor delivery of services to the people in the Middle Ramu district which continues to get worse.
In the case of Josephstaal, back in the colonial days the roads and bridges were maintained and the people were encouraged to grow cocoa, more recently betelnut. he road was opened for a short period and periodically during he dry season it is open for four-vehicles, but now it is closed and unless the Government can find a minimum of K10 million it will remain closed.
The airport has also been closed on and off for the past five years. We repaired one of the tractors and slashers and recently bought a new tractor, trailer and slasher and had it flown in by the Australian Defence Force and this has helped maintain the airstrip and local roads but on New Year, when I visited Josephstaal I was told they had no fuel and unless the grass is cut in the next week the airstrip will be closed again!
The Melanesian Foundation, with the help of the US Mercy, undertook maintenance of the health centre, installed tanks, generator and in recent months, an MOU was signed by the provincial government and the Catholic archdiocese of Madang to take over the health centre in a bid to improve health services not only in Josephstaal but in the Josephstaal area.
I read with sorrow of the death of the twins that were medevaced to Madang General Hospital and the mother who attempted to walk to Aiome – these are only two of hundreds of stories I know of yet despite all the hype about district improvements, very little help has reached them and when it does, it dries up as it is not sustainable.
Last year, I had the privilege of flying Archbishop William Kurtz to Josephstaal to attend the opening of a youth conference which attracted more than 3,000 young people, many of whom walked for two and three days to attend the event. This was entirely organised and funded by the youth themselves, assisted by the Catholic church which provides most of the services along the Ramu and Josephstaal sub-district. It was an eye-opener to me to witness such a large event that attracted so many young people who enjoyed the social, sporting, spiritual activities.
It is important to realise that Josephstaal is just one area in the Middle Ramu district suffering a similar fate – the Hagahai people at Mamuse have also been subject to lack of services and again thanks to Dr Carol Jenkins, the Baptist Mission and the Melanesian Foundation they now have a health centre and school run by the Hagahai people whose education was funded by the Foundation.
You do not hear a lot from the people as they out of sight and many know no better, they accept their hardships, rarely complain and carry on as the Government has become almost irrelevant to them. They are self -reliant but regretfully pay the price by having some of the highest infant and mothers in childbirth mortality in the world.
I thank The National on behalf of the Josephstaal people who are unable to read your fine editorial and hope that the matters you raised are taken seriously by those in power.

Sir Peter Barter,