We can learn from past disasters

Editorial, Normal

The National,Thursday August 20th, 2015

 THE adage, necessity is the mother of invention, has become unfortunately very relevant today as communities around the country brace for the worst.

In this instance it is necessity borne out of a real crisis facing people squarely in the eyes. 

While debate rages on between the O’Neill Government and its detractors on the state of the economy nobody can dare to with El Nino. 

People are now in need of relief aid and the Government must react. This is perhaps nature’s cruel rattling of the piggy bank. 

In order to get food and other relief supplies to those in need, procedures normally followed will have to be waived or bypassed and this is where the public service would be expected to do its best. The El Nino weather conditions are well and truly upon all provinces of PNG and the western Pacific.  

Widespread drought conditions are experienced throughout the country. 

These are accompanied by frost in the temperate regions of the causing food and water shortages, illness and even death already.

Efforts by the Government through the disaster coordination centre have already started and as more and more assessments flow in from the provincial centres, resources and expertise would be required at those areas of need.

Lessons from the past, especially during the 1997 El Nino, should come to the fore in planning and executing disaster relief assistance, mitigation or coping mechanisms.

Red tape will have to be avoided at all costs and financial resources meant for disaster relief must not be expended unnecessarily on administration and allowances as had happened in the past.

As pointed out by National Disaster Centre director Martin Mose, suppliers of food and other items to assist people affected by the drought and frost conditions must 

be paid directly instead of channelling funds to the provinces 

As Mose confirmed, some of the relief aid funding from the National Government given to provincial centres was used up for non-essentials.

Whether it is food, drugs or other relief assistance, suppliers should be paid directly and provincial centres should only be there to assist in delivery. Some provincial disaster agencies are themselves incapable of assisting when required.  

Case in point is the Madang office whose staff could not do anything to provide immediate relief assistance to the Manam Island people, hit by another volcanic eruption three weeks ago.

Earlier this year, it was uncovered that relief supplies meant for flood-affected people in Gulf was rotting away at a shipping yard in the 

NCD while people were starving.

Such incompetence, lacking of planning and insensitivity to the plight of the affected people must not be repeated. 

In the current crisis, all parts of the country are reeling under the effects of the dry weather conditions. 

So far, the  Highlands region has been hardest hit. 

It is expected that government agencies charged with procurement and delivery of relief assistance rise beyond their normal duties.

During and after the devastating 1997 drought, institutions such the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) conducted education and awareness campaigns on drought-coping measures.

NARI introduced several drought-tolerant crop varieties and innovative farming techniques to be applied in drought conditions.

There were also tips on getting underground water for household consumption and farm irrigation.

Such adaptation techniques should be put to use as the country enters into what is predicted to be a bigger disaster. In PNG crisis also tests the strength or people and brings out the best in them to fend for themselves and others.

There is a general community spirit that we can count on time and again through such crisis. 

People must also exercise common sense and take basic preventive measures to help themselves.  

Already there have been reports of sine careless people starting fires that have destroyed homes, food crops and forests which entire communities depend on for their livelihood and survival

There have been ample lessons from the past. 

Given the acquired knowledge and skills, some affected communities should be better prepared to cope with the drought wherever they can. 

External help, however welcome, is limited and is depleted quickly.