We need to be better prepared

Editorial, Normal

The National,Wednesday August 19th, 2015

 AS the El Nino-induced drought and frost conditions start to affect certain parts of Papua New Guinea, it is of little comfort to hear that the National Disaster Centre (NDC) has no immediate funds to attend to the looming calamity. 

“We don’t have anything, to be quite honest,” NCD director Martin Mose told a media conference yesterday.

Mose said however “the coffers have not run dry yet and he was confident of emergency funding from the National Government.

He is seeking the immediate release of K5 million from Treasury Department to assist the provinces already affected.

We hope for the sake of the people affected by the prolonged drought and frost that government funding will come sooner than later.

As Mose indicated, the K5 million will only be “band-aid” treatment until a proper assessment of the situation is conducted and recommendations made for a proper budget to cater for the disaster.

It is reassuring to hear from the NDC chief that there will be proper accountability of all disaster funds, unlike in the past.

Mose says funding from Treasury will be allocated directly to the NDC for relief assistance and supplies. 

“We have realised that when you put funds straight to provinces, you’re bound to see some funds wandering away, for example, when K100 goes down only K50 or K80 ends up there. 

“We don’t want to see that happen.” Indeed, the Government would not want a repeat of past instances where hundreds of thousands, even millions, of kina have been disappeared along the way and leaving the affected people in a state of prolonged suffering.

By the same token, it is heartening to note that the Southern Highlands provincial government has taken the lead in providing urgent relief assistance for their affected people.

Governor William Powi and his provincial executive council, in declaring a state of emergency in the province this week, have allocated K2 million to be shared equally by the five districts.

Powi says however, the funding is not adequate and they will need an additional K2 million from Waigani. “Any help we get would be greatly appreciated. 

“I am making an urgent call to the National Government for assistance of K2 million.” 

Like other affected provinces, South Highlands needs urgent food supplies, clean water, and basic health services since it was first hit by frost and drought four weeks ago. 

It is alarming to note that more than 500,000 people are affected.

Schools and homes are faced with no water for drinking, cooking, toilets and washing. 

Most schools have been forced to close.

Businesses are also affected as their workers remain home while hospitals and healthcare centres are in dire need of food, water and medical drugs. 

In neighbouring Enga where 300,000 people are affected, Governor Sir Peter Ipatas has also appealed to the National Government for urgent relief assistance.

His provincial administration is currently assessing the situation and putting together details of the affected areas and the number of people affected by the drought and frost.

Sir Peter believes the frost in Enga is worse than the one in 1972. “This one is far, far worse.”

His concern was echoed by Chief Secretary Sir Manasupe Zurenuoc. “It is bad, it is quite serious.”

In the absence of Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, who is attending a forum in India, Sir Manasupe has refrained from making any serious financial commitment.

With predictions by experts that the El Nino induced weather conditions will prevail well into the New Year, it is imperative that the Government moves quickly to lessen the impact of this looming catastrophe.

It is equally important that the relevant authorities, such as the National Disaster Centre, and provincial administrations co-ordinate their efforts to ensure that relief assistance and supplies gets to the affected people and areas without major hiccups.

Let us learn from the bad experiences of past natural disasters and overcome this calamity.

The lives and welfare of millions of Papua New Guineans, which have been put at risk by El Nino, depend on quick, efficient and effective government action.