PAPUA New Guinea, for the first time, joined 188 other nations over the weekend to mobilise people in support of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The event was concentrated only in Port Moresby and was small, made even smaller by the cancellation at the eleventh hour of a march planned for Friday morning by the Salvation Army.
Almost entirely neglected by the Government, which sent no message in recognition, and no obvious presence by any UN agency apart from a photo shoot on the steps of the prestigious Deloitte Tower by heads of various UN organisations operating in PNG last Friday morning, the event was spearheaded entirely by the Salvation Army and one settlement in Port Moresby.
The head of the Baptist Union and secretary general of the PNG Council of Churches were observers on the day and lent a churches-only flavour to the event.
The smallness of the event is perhaps a good thing because it gave an accurate representation of the current state of play and gave a more accurate picture of what is missing than if there were massive “Stand up and take action” rallies around the country.
For it told of just how neglected the issue of poverty reduction is by the Government; how remote, academic and impersonal the concept is even to those providing the finances and programmes for it; how communities are uninformed, uncoordinated and operating in isolation of each other; and how the churches seem to be the only institutions striving against tremendous odds to provide hope for the dejected and rejected millions in PNG living in poverty.
But there was fire and fervour in the small gathering on Saturday at the ATS Settlement behind Jackson International Airport that spoke of the capacity there is if only the people were mobilised and coordinated.
This was a community which had decided that the way forward was to open the doors to its homes to let the outside world, including the Government, know what squalid conditions its inhabitants lived in.
The churches and media representatives were given a guided tour of the dry, dusty settlement of some 5,000 people who have access to only 18 open taps, more than half of which are almost always dry and the rest lack water for most of the dry.
They were shown homes were a nine-member family has two metres of space to live in, where homes are almost falling over and where most of a family’s belongings are outside rather than inside the house.
Not exactly sights that anyone would want the prying cameras of journalists to intrude into to publish to the world but which a community has decided it must do if it is to get outside assistance to move it forward.
It is a community that shall prosper for it is organised and able and willing to take tremendous risks. It has organised itself into an association which pays K1 per household to get water.
Each month the association pays Eda Ranu K1,500 for water, more than most settlements do within the capital where water flows 24 hours with nobody paying for a single litre of it.
A submission was bound and ready to be handed out to a UN or Government representative to find help where they could for the community.
More communities must take their cue from this example, to take positive action, to pressure their leadership and to expose the conditions, including the evils that persist in the community. Only then will they be ready to help themselves. Only then will they get help from outside.
On Saturday, ATS Settlement children chanting in the blinding sun and dust melted the strongest of hearts: “Let’s stand up, take action, end poverty.” Their placards asked questions adults could not answer. One said: “PNG blessed with resources. Why live in poverty?”
“You see fit to buy a Falcon jet when people of PNG die of poverty in a resource rich country.” another accused.
Questions and statements only the Government could answer.
Answers which the Government had pledged itself to work hard towards when it signed the Millennium Declaration in 2000 committing itself to eight development goals with the ultimate aim of eradicating poverty by 2015. With six years to go, PNG is way off track.
If governments are for the people and if such governments appear to have forgotten the people, it is incumbent upon the people to remind their governments of such neglect and to press for appropriate remedies.
With just six years left, the achievement of the MDGs must remain a priority.