MENYAMYA district in Morobe is one of the most geographically rugged areas of Papua New Guinea.
Except for Menyamya and Aseki stations, which are linked by road from Lae, most of the ward councils are inaccessible and isolated.
The district is wedged between the Eastern Highlands and Gulf. The mountains are high and steep, and the valleys deep. And, the people, as nature has made them, are short and sturdy.
Through the millennia, they have survived cold days with little more than a bark for covering on freezing nights. The bark would also provide shelter as they went through seething rain to their gardens on hillsides.
They were prepared for the toughest of weathers. They became very hard workers, conditioned over the millennia. But, in the last 14 months, their sturdiness and hardiness have been tested beyond anything they recall from memory or through folklore.
At first, they were tested by the dysentery outbreak in August last year. More than 200 people were reported to have died. The weak and elderly fell, babies died, stout men were reduced to a pale shadow of their former selves.
This year, since the middle of last month, 22 people have lost their lives.
The disaster that has hit them came from nature. Perhaps, from the effects of climate change, the district has suffered an eight-month-long dry season.
The sun has scorched mountainsides, leaving savannah grasslands easy to burn and now form blotches of black scars on the landscape.
The feral animals, the pigs and the bandicoots and other marsupials, are running but, because of lack of water, are dying. When scientifically viewed, this is a break in the food chain.
And, when there is a break in the food chain, other links in the chain will likely crumble – leaving man, the head of the food chain, at peril.
It is a harsh fate for the more than 50,000 people of Menyamya, of which nearly 20,000 in the Kome sub-district areas of Lagai and Hengali, are directly affected.
While the people cannot control nature, they can,
by universal right, get
some assistance from
But, it seems, the people of Menyamya, have been destined to be overlooked or given second rating in their quest for government service.
When the dysentery hit last year, it took more than a month, and at least 60 lives, before the government acted. Then, again, it was the provincial health division whose workers are medical professionals who have an ethic to save lives.
This time, there is a drought. And, the officers responsible are being complacent or giving excuses.
The Morobe provincial disaster officers went to Menyamya a week after the first reports were published. And, for all the reasons in the world, the officers said they had run out of fuel and could not continue the journey into Menyamya.
They returned to Lae having gone most of the way.
The reason meant they had not planned. They did not take enough fuel to last them the entire 500km return trip.
If they did not have money for the trip, they surely had last week when they managed to charter a helicopter for more than K8,000 an hour. For all the cost, and the comfortable ride, the officers landed at a riverside, saw a coffee garden and returned pronto.
This time they said, they could not continue into the worst hit areas of Kome sub-district because of foul weather. It was brilliant timing for a joy ride.
It is hoped that the officers did collect data to file to the National Disaster Office. It seems any data they provide would be from hearsay. That information would need proof. And, they did not get it.
Perhaps, the officers should have taken a walk, as The National’s journalist Pisai Gumar did. He rode on a four-wheeler to Menyamya at a cost of K50 and then walked for a full day into Lagai. Starving people gave him the little food they had.
These are the people who, during the good times, carry 50kg bags of coffee up and down sharp mountains and across swift flowing rivers for days to roads, and then transport them on four-wheel drives to Lae, and make more money than any other people of Morobe through the sweat of their toils.
They are now suffering, having been hard done by nature and, apparently, completely ignored by the government.