Words and pictures by TONY PALME
I DON’T know if anyone has ever written about the hardships faced in Jimi electorate.
This is my assessment of the most disadvantaged district in Jiwaka and the perhaps country.
It is fair for disadvantaged districts like Jimi to receive between K15-K20 million as District Services Improvement Programme funds every year so that they can improve their road networks, which is the key to trigger district-wide transformation. Otherwise, they will remain disadvantaged forever.
Two thirds of the electorate is accessible only by air and that means road access is almost non-existent.
The 60,000 people of Jimi are scattered all over the electorate in the three distinct geographical areas of Upper Jimi, Lower Jimi and Middle Jimi.
You will hardly find any valley or flat land in Jimi.
Transport costs are very high.
For example, the total cost of building a double classroom in neighbouring North Waghi is about K75,000 whereas in Jimi, given the transportation costs, the same building would cost twice that.
Mt Hagen-based Missionary Aviation Fellowship flies daily to five airstrips in Jimi -Tsendiap, Koinambe, Kol, Ambullua, and Junkaral – only when the weather is fine and when people pay for it.
On Tuesday, March 13, Jimi MP Wake Goi commissioned another airstrip at Tumbungi. One more airstrip at Bubultunga is now being cleared by the locals and that will bring to seven airstrips.
The only road access into Jimi is from Banz to Karap where only four-wheel-drive vehicles move people and cargo in and out daily.
From Karap, people from Upper Jimi take the Karap-Kol road, while those in Lower Jimi take the Karap-Tabibuga road, and then proceed from Tabibuga station (also in Middle Jimi) to Koinambe, Wara Jimi or Togban in Lower Jimi.
A new road from Kinjibi-Mala in Dei district to Tsenga in Lower Jimi is currently under construction.
Jimi shares borders with North Waghi, East Sepik, Western Highlands, Chimbu and Madang.
Those in Kol and Ambullua in Upper Jimi take short cuts by walking for two to three days to get to Kerowagi in Chimbu or Bogia in Madang.
Landslides and floods are common because it rains almost every day which cuts off roads and damages bridges.
As a journalist living in Jiwaka, it is very painful writing about my fellow citizens who live behind the mountains whose struggles I had never fully understood.
I can’t hold back my tears as I write this story. As a transformed Christian, I feel so sorry for God’s people coping with the harsh reality of a district as rugged as Jimi.
I heard stories that they suffered everyday but to what extent I would not know. You have to go there and feel what they feel and get into their shoes to know their struggles.
Jimi people are known by their neighbours for supplying high quality peanut, red pandanus (marita), bread fruits, bush pandanus (karuka) and coffee. Vanilla and betel nut are now grown in Jimi.
Up at Banz, those of us that live in the valley and travel on PMVs have no knowledge of how our friends from the mountains manage to gather these goods and bring them to us.
They have been doing it for generations for their survival and also out of love to serve the people of Jiwaka.
We refer to them as ‘back page people’ and dirty looking, and force them to sell their produce at bargain prices, not knowing that pandanus or peanut bags are carried over long distances and up steep mountains.
On the afternoon of Thursday, March 8, heavy rain caused massive floods in Upper Jimi and destroyed gardens and washed off two important bridges.
Goi visited the sites of the bridges at Kun river, 55 km north-east of Banz and 7km further up at Jimning river.
Upper Jimi which hosts Jimi High School and Kol government station has been completely cut off.
Jimi District Development Authority chief executive officer Lawrence Itali took an inspection tour of the disaster areas on Tuesday, March 13.
With him were police officers from Banz, provincial works engineers, disaster officers, district officials and journalists.
We left Banz at around 11.30am and arrived at Kun bridge at 6.30pm. We left Kun and walked using torch light for about 7km which took us an hour and 30 minutes to reach Wara Manz and overnight there.
In the morning (Wednesday), we interviewed some affected villagers at Jimning and Kun. We arrived at Banz at 6.40pm.
Itali and provincial civil engineer Thomas Max said it would cost more than K6 million to replace the two bridges, repair a few others being threatened by flood waters, and maintain the road.
“District funding alone is inadequate. We need provincial and national government and other donor agencies to come in so that we put up these bridges immediately,” Itali said.
Goi, also the vice-minister for Works and Implementation agrees that district funding alone is insufficient.
Since Goi took office after the 2017 election, he has upgraded the Karap-Kol road but due to funding delay, contractor Kaia Works has stopped work at Domi, about 20km away from Karap.
Goi says his priority is to improve all roads in Jimi and open it up to the outside world.
“We have a mammoth task ahead of us. We cannot create miracles overnight. Whenever funding is made available, we will try our best as much as possible to deliver projects in an honest way.
“I don’t like telling lies and mismanaging people’s money. Whatever belongs to the people of Jimi must be utilised to improve their livelihoods.
“Our biggest challenge is to seal the 33km stretch of Banz-Karap road.
“Jimi has got a lot of potential and can boost the economy of Jiwaka if we open it up.
“The key is to work together. I want to work together with the MP for North Waghi Dr Fabian Pok and Governor Dr William Tongamp to make Jimi a better district.
“My people have suffered enough. We need more money. We must work together,” Goi said.
Goi thanked Tongamp for donating an excavator for the people of Jimi.
According to Thomas Max, the machine will start work from Sipil-Banz junction to Karap next month.
In the meantime, Goi has subsidised airfares for travel to and from the district. He recently made a payment of K250,000 to MAF which is currently being used.
He plans to pay another K250,000 to MAF next month.
Thanks to the subsidy, teachers, nurses, students, district officials, and villagers who travel to Jimi by air are paying only K120 instead of the normal fare of K280.
Itali said people must not expect the arrangement with MAF to last that long.
“It is important that the two bridges must be replaced as soon as possible.
“We understand that government is currently responding to the situations in Hela and Southern Highlands.”
He pointed out that police manpower was critically needed in Jimi for public servants to perform their duties effectively.
“Sometimes we face security issues. I urge people to change their attitude of asking for money. When people ask public servants for money, they are directly chasing them away. In the end, people themselves suffer,” Itali said.
Because of the remoteness, Jimi people have lived with hardships people in some other parts of the country may not be familiar with. Mothers have died silently of birth complications and elderly people die as they cannot be carried over mountainous terrain to health centres.
The common mode of transportation in Jimi is walking and they have done it for generations – in search of material things and knowledge to improve their lot.
Words and pictures by TONY PALME