Last year’s quake leaves us many lessons

Editorial

TODAY is the first anniversary of the 7.5 magnitude earthquake that hit parts of the Highlands a year ago and shattered lives.
The earthquake that struck on the morning of Feb 26 last year was the largest in the region (Papuan Fold and Thrust Belt) since 1922.
The epicentre of the earthquake was at an extinct volcano site in Mt Busave.
Tremors were felt in other parts of the country.
The National last year reported the acting director of the geohazards management division Chris McKee saying that the earthquake was the biggest in almost 100 years. The last earthquake of a similar magnitude occurred in 1922.
Last year’s earthquake was the worst natural disaster to hit the country, causing millions of kina worth of damage to infrastructure and properties. It affected people in rural areas. The four major projects in the extractive industry, including the LNG project, were shut down.
According to the United Nations Development Programme disaster risk management, PNG is one of the most disaster-prone countries in the Pacific region and accounts for 25 per cent of the natural disasters that occurred in the Pacific between 1950 and 2008.
PNG is ranked within the top six countries in the Asia-Pacific region as having the highest percentage of population exposed to earthquakes, and it is ranked close behind the Philippines, Indonesia and Vanuatu with the percentage of population exposed to severe risks of volcanic eruption.
The UN has noted that, one year later, the after-effects of the earthquake are still visible. The disaster has compounded the development challenges faced by the affected provinces, and the impact of chronic, low-level intensity inter-clan fighting that have been ongoing for years.
A recently concluded UN mission to the region found that while a lot of the immediate earthquake-related needs have been met, people are still facing major humanitarian, developmental and human rights challenges because of their isolation and remote location.
That has been the biggest challenge in PNG after a disaster – especially a natural one – hits.
We have reported about the confusion between the relevant entities on what they could do with the limited finance that they had.
The delays only cause those affected to get frustrated with the no-show of essential support and it is usually the officers on the ground who cop the blame.
Such scenarios are an indication that any form of disaster response is always plagued by bureaucratic and, at times, political obstacles.
Natural disasters are inevitable – whether they are floods, volcanic eruptions or earthquakes.
While natural disasters are difficult to predict, it is more cost-effective to be prepared than deal with the damage, death and reconstruction.
Disasters do not only cost lives, they also have a severe socio-economic impact on the country.
The concern in PNG every time a disaster strikes is how soon the assessment would be done to allow for the timely delivery of support to the affected communities.
We have reported on enough disasters in the country to have the confidence to say that there is an urgent need to strengthen the current official or governance arrangement so as to improve interaction on matters of emergency response and disaster risk mainstreaming into planning and budgeting in a manner that will be sustainable to PNG over the longer term.

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