Will somebody please listen?

Normal, Weekender

Residents of the ATS settlement outside Port Moresby speak out about their condition, urging the Government to take action against poverty. FRANK SENGE KOLMA reports

SEVEN children and their two parents huddle for safety each evening in a two by two metre space.
There is no comfort here and they do not huddle for warmth.
It is stifling hot.
There is space only for about six to sleep leaving the other three to sleep in a sitting position.
On most nights, the bigger children and the parents, get their rest outside.
The family shall remain nameless.
Such is the wretchedness of their condition that it gives neither reader nor the family itself any pleasure in its publication.
But their wretched condition must be published to the nation and the world for theirs is a stark example of the decrepit and even inhuman existence of many thousands of Papua New Guineans living within walking distance of the country’s Parliament Haus.
Susie Korio does not mind being named.
This Morobean lives with her Orokaivan husband at the ATS Settlement near the Jackson’s International Airport where they have been since 1998.
On Saturday she was out in the blinding noon sun walking with something like thirty empty water containers over every description.
She had a bilum of them over her head. They were hanging off her elbows and dangling from each hand.
She was on her way to anyone of the 18 water taps supplying the settlement with water – whichever one of them was flowing that day.
Water pressure is extremely low and on most days woman have to sit by a dry or dripping tap for a full day just fetching water.
They pay K1 per house to fetch water.
The money goes to the community association which then pays K1,500 at the end of the month to water supplier Eda Ranu.
Around each of the 18 public taps there you can see every type of water container from 300ml coke bottles to 44 galon diesel drums and everything in between.
There is an elder sitting full-time filling all the containers all day long and deep into the night.
The settlement is sprawling on the north side of the Jackson International Airport.
It is occupied predominantly by Orokaivans. There are some 5,000 of them there.
On Saturday the settlement’s leadership, youth, woman and children turned up in force with placards and chanting: “Stand up and take action. Stop poverty.”
Theirs become the only community in PNG to participate in the global “Stand up and take action” movement, a citizen’s wake up call to governments to take seriously their commitments to the millennium development goals.
Elsewhere on earth millions mobilised to pressure their governments to focus on the eight millennium goals, now six years short of the target date of 2015.
PNG’s small turnout was succinctly captured by the editorial comment in this newspaper: “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, the event was spearheaded entirely by the Salvation Army and one settlement in Port Moresby.
“The smallness of the event is perhaps a good thing because …. 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 Papua New Guinea living in abject poverty.”
“In a country of plenty,” the community declared in placards, in pledges and in speeches, “where people are dying of poverty.”
“While people die of poverty induced ailments, why does the Government spend millions on buying a falcon jet for the comfort of leaders alone,” they said.
The community opened the homes of its members to media and visitors to see for themselves what their lot was.
On Sunday the Salvation Army again dedicated its Sunday service to the MDG theme with the secretary-general exhorting all to not just “talk” but to “act” to stop poverty in PNG.
Youths, woman and children pledged themselves to stand up, to take action and keep reminding government of its responsibilities and its promises to deliver the millennium development goals, topping which is poverty reduction.
The Salvation Army’s quick action, within a week and a half, to take ownership and organise events including the cancelled march last Friday, is a mark in its favour of its alertness and its ability to mobilise at short notice to issues of national and international importance.
After the visit to the ATS settlement one is immediately struck by the thought that if people in the nation’s capital are living in such squalid conditions, how much worse is it out there in the rest of the nation.
The ATS settlement is walking distance to Parliament House, the highest law-making body in the land.
It is walking distance to Morauta House where the Prime Minister and his cabinet have their offices in which all policy decisions are made.
It is walking distance to Vulupindi Haus where the departments of Finance and Treasury have their offices where all the billions of the land are collected and distributed.
Hardly a leader visits here except once in every five years.
Yet leaders will talk nonstop about poverty in whatever forum they are invited to.
No public servant visits here even though the medium term development strategy contains in eloquent phrases, the Government’s plans to tackle housing, water, education and health problems in the country.
At the ATS settlement, though, there is some positive signs of a community mobilising itself to better its situation.
The settlement is organised enough to pay for water when in many settlements the pipes are broken and the water flows 24/7 without anybody paying for it.
Last Saturday, it presented a community development document to the United Nations.
And it declared that it will fight on and on until it gets the attention and the assistance it wants and deserves.
That is the kind of positive action that will take every community forward.
The apparent blindness of our Government and government institutions to the obvious poverty all around them is when the community stands up and speaks out about its conditions.
And not only speaks out but takes action.