Sunday, 11 March 2018

MENDI WINS RUGBY TITLE AMIDST DISASTER DEVASTATION




The Mendi Butterflies Rugby League team has claimed the prestigious 2017-2018 Coca Cola Ipatas Cup in Lae, dedicating their victory to their beloved people who have been affected by the recent earthquake in the province.

“Election related violence and the recent earthquake disaster in the Southern Highlands province have hampered our preparation and training, but we have worked hard to come this far,” an excited skipper Pore John told NBC News.

Mendi OLCO Butterflies won the Ipatas cup and K50,000 prize money for the third time in 18years after edging out a spirited Wapenamanda Brothers 20-17 in extra time.

“We weren’t expecting to come this far, but the committment showed by the players has been the force behind the win,” says John.

The Ipatas Cup is the biggest offseason rugby league compettion in Papua New Guinea which has attracted 138 teams in it’s 2017-2018 season.

Another Southern Highlands team Mendi Bulldogs also finished fourth in the compettion collecting the prize money of K10,000.

On Saturday the Mendi Rugby League and Mendi Muruks franchise were hosted to a trial match with the Enga Mioks of which gate takings were to be split between the two provinces to assist disaster relief efforts.

The 7.5 magnitude earthquake that struck the Highlands region on February 26th 2018 has laimed more than a hundred lives and left thousands of people homelessa nd their food gardens destroyed.
The Mendi rugby League field at Tente was also damaged by the earthquake.

The Mendi teams worked so hard over the last two weeks to prepare for the finals and the achievment was sweet with some of their players being snatched by Digicel Cup teams.

The Ipatas Cup throphy will be brought over to the disaster devasted township of Mendi tomorrow (Monday) where it will spend a week before returning to Lae.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

LESSONS FROM PNG DISASTER RESPONSE

Timu village from the top showing the site where eleven people were buried by landslips during the earthquake on Monday 26th February 2018. Four of the bodies have been recovered, seven are still buried including five children.

The Highlands Earthquake Disaster has brought to light some of the many things that need to be considered in assisting those affected by disaster and restoring vital infrastructures and communication links between relief agencies and the people.


The response to the disaster took almost a week for the National Disaster Centre to find out statistics of people who were affected, casualties, homes and food gardens destroyed and how to deliver relief supplies to those affected.

While a small team of medical officers in Hela and Southern Highlands provinces have been hard at work trying to reach and assist the affected communities, more deaths and injuries were reported from areas unreachable by road and telecommunications.

Mendi School of Nursing building in Southern Highlands being damaged by the earthquake
These are some of the impediments to getting accurate statistics;

- Most communities do not have schools, clinics and ward offices that will keep the records of people in their wards communities.
- No road links to almost all the areas affected. The rugged terrains also makes it difficult for roads to be constructed and maintained.
- No telecommunication receptions, television and radio signals of which the people can be advised and educated on the disasters and how to avoid destruction.
At Timu village in Komo-Magarima Hela province, eleven people were were killed by landslips caused by the 7.5 magnitude earthquake on Monday 26th February 2018. Four out of the eleven bodies were recovered while the other seven bodies are still buried under the debris.
Timu village is just a few tens of kilometres away from the provincial capital Tari but it is way back in terms of basic services availability for the people. The people knew that there’s a gas pipeline running through their neighbouring villages from Hides to the Papuan coastline but they haven’t seen the benefits from the gas and petroleum extractions in the province.
Displaced Timu villagers in Hela litening attentively as a local translator advises them on the visit by Tari Hospital Doctor Tana Kiak (with red cap) during a visit to the village this week.
Teams of researchers and volunteers from relief agencies were tasked to collect data, informations and
statistics of people who have been affected, but they can only be flown by helicopter into the affected areas.
There are no medivac helicopters to transport relief supplies and doctors into the affected communities. The PNG Defence Force, Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) and Adventist Aviation Serices were kind enough to do trips into these remote communities.
The cost of hiring a helicopter in PNG is quite expensive. Helicopter companies are charging around K5000 for an hour. With most communities being isolated in the remote areas, it is costly and ineffective to attend to more than five villages in a day.
The Australian Defence Force Hercules Aircraft transporting relief supplies from Port Moresby, Lae and Mt Hagen has been landing at the Moro airport, then smaller aircrafts bring the supplies back to Tari and offloaded onto helicopters to distribute.
PNG Red Cross International on site in Tari
Disaster response in PNG has been very slow and hasn’t improved from previous experiences.
In February 2018, I was in Wewak when a volcanic island began releasing smokes after being dormant for more than two centuries. The Kadovar Island volcano has displaced more than 600 islanders who are now seeking refuge at a temporary care centre supported by aid agencies.
The Kadovar island volcano which erupted in January 2018
Again the experiences from the Manam volcano in Madang hasn’t helped the authorities to sort out a permanent resettlement area for the displaced islanders. Slow response from the National Disaster Centre has caused greater loss for the people in the last three years. They’ve lost their culture and they have lost their way of life on the Manam island while living at the care centre at Bogia.
The National Disaster team should be the first people on ground after the disaster strikes. They must be the first to make contact with the affected people, not turning up a week later only to find out that people died whicle waiting to receive treatment.
I hope the present disaster will provide an insight into issues that needs to be addressed by the government to ensure the National Disaster Centre is adequately and constantly funded to serve it’s purpose.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

15year-old Boy Loses Entire Family in Hela Earthquake

Taunda Mope,15yr old Grade 4 student who lost his parents and four siblings along with four other relatives to the earthquake in Hela province.

Taunda Mope, a grade 4 student at Tango Primary School in Magarima was on his way to his family for the weekend when the 7.5 magnitude earthquake shook his Timu village in Hela province in the early hours of Monday 26th February 2018.

Taunda arrived at his village on Tuesday morning only to found out that his village has been destroyed by the earthquake.

His family home was nowhere to be seen.
Debris including rocks and trees have covered more than 20 houses, gardens and hamlets belonging to his Kandele tribe.

His parents including four of his siblings were among eleven poeple that were buried under the debris caused by landslips.

The burial site of the four recovered bodies at Limu village.


"It was around 4am in the morning when we felt the earthquake, it was the time of the morning that everyone was fast asleep," recalls Joel Wai a relative to Taunda.

"We could here the landslide approaching along with rocks and trees, we started running out in the dark in fear of our lives."

Soon afterwards, the villagers started calling out to their family members in the dark. Dawn was breaking and they could hardly hear birds chirping or even see their pigs in sight. All their homes have vanished after the landslip.

Most of the people who were buried in the landslip were women, young children and two babies.

Four bodies out of the initial eleven have been retrieved from the disaster site. This includes a young mother and her two children (ages 2 and 5years) and another 15year old girl.

Local villagers are doing their best to retrieve the seven bodies. A week has gone and they are still hoping to find them among the debris.

"We cannot leave this place, even there are dangers that the village is likely to be buried if the next earthquake or landslide occurs. We have lost our homes, our gardens, pigs and family members, we are willing to die with them if don't locate their bodies sooner."

Taunda couldn't speak in Tok Pisin, but as translated to me, he has no hope of staying back in the village. He purposely came home to see his parents to sort out his school fees, but with their untimely death he is in a confusion state on who will assist him.

Limu is one of several villages in the Hulai LLG of Komo-Magarima. The LNG Gas pipeline runs a few kilometres from the village, but there are no schools, clinics, communication towers or even a road connecting them to the provincial capital Tari.

It's neigbouring Homapawa village has also confirmed 10 deaths and are in dire need for relief assistance.

Today the Taunda and his 674 tribesmen and women are camping at their local church building. The only building in the village that was not destroyed by the disaster.

There are in dire need of food, fresh drinking water, clothes and shelter. The aftershocks brings keeps them up everyday and night as they wait on when relief supply and support will reach them.

Monday, 5 March 2018

EARTHQUAKE DEATH TOLL REACHES 75 IN HELA & SHP

Locals at Limu village in Komo-Magarima standing at a burial site where a woman and her children were killed during the earthquake.


Thousands of people have been displaced and are still waiting for relief assistance in disaster affected areas in Hela and Southern Highlands provinces a week after the 7.5 magnitude earthquake destroyed their homes and food gardens in the early hours of Monday 26th February.

Aftershocks below 5 magnitude have been experienced in the last 7 days with locals on high alert and awaiting relief supplies and assistance in evacuations to safer grounds.

Hela Provincial Hospital in Tari confirmed a total of 38 deaths and 8 unconfirmed deaths this afternoon (Monday). Today a medical team was deployed into Limu and Homapawa villages in the Benere ward area where a a total of 21 deaths were confirmed.

Homapawa village confirmed 10 deaths and Timu 11. Of the 11 in Timu, 4 have been retrieved and given proper burial while another 7 (a family of six and another teenage girl) are still buried under the debris along with their house. Efforts by locals to retrieve their bodies are slowly progressing at this stage.

Timu villagers who have lost all their houses and food gardens are now taking refuge at their local EBC Church building in the village.

Locals at Limu village at the disaster site where bodies of an entire family of seven are still buried under the debris.


Another 12 confirmed deaths have been reported at the Mt Bosavi area I'm the Komo-Magarima district of Hela. Nearby Mananda village also reported 5 confirmed deaths and houses and food gardens destroyed by the disaster.

Health officials  are yet to verify uncomfirmed reports of some more deaths in Magarima and Pandoka.

So far Hela province has reported a total of 38 confirmed deaths while Southern Highlands has reported 37 deaths so far. This now brings the death toll to 75 as at this afternoon (Monday).

Affected communities are facing severe food, clothing and fresh water shortages as relief efforts are slowly progressing at this stage. Most of these villages in Hela are situated along the pipelines areas of the oil and gas plants in Southern Highlands and Hela provinces.

Aerial view of Limu village in Komo-Magarima showing the earthquake damage that killed 11 people.


Humanitarian relief agencies are also doing their best to get into affected communities which most communities are inaccessible by road or the road links cut off by the disaster.

Oil Search Limited has committed K6million in cash and kind towards the disaster while EXXON Mobil has committed K3million towards relief assistance. Oil Search has already began distributing relief supplies to parts of Southern Highlands while relief supplies were also delivered by the Australian Defence Force Hercules aircraft to Moro in Hela.

The National Disaster Centre in a statement released today says they are still waiting for accurate data to reach them so that they will act accordingly.
However people from the affected communities have plead for the government to fast track relief assistance and also address resettlement issues in due course as they are still in fear following aftershocks in the last 7 days.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

16 Deaths in Hela, 37 in SHP as Relief Efforts Continue

Part of a building that collapsed at Mendi School of Nursing in the early morning hours of Monday 26th February 2018.


Local community leaders have taken charge of care centres in the Southern Highlands province as they await food, clothing and other relief supplies to be delivered.

Acting Southern Highlands Provincial Administrator Thomas Eluh says six care centres have been set up around SHP by locals.

The death toll as of today (Sunday) stands at 37 while there have been 25 unconfirmed deaths reported.

Road links into most of the affected villages have been blocked by debris from landslips piling up. Some sections of the roads were badly damaged by the movement from the earthquake.

Police from the Mobile Squad (MS 10) based in Mendi have been grounded in the last 24hours after their fuel supply tanks were also damaged by the earthquake.

Most shops and fuel stations have been reportedly closed following damages from Monday's earthquake and the aftershocks that are constant in the province.

The Agiru Centre which houses the provincial administration has also reported damages to its offices and equipment and has been condemned by authorities. The provincial administrator and the disaster team are now operating out of the provincial police command in Mendi.

The Mendi School of Nursing was one of the institutions I've visited that has most of it's buildings destroyed by the earthquake.

There is now a greater need for funding to be made available through the National Disaster Office so that logistical support can be provided to distribute relief supplies.

In Hela, a total of 16 deaths have been confirmed by the Hela Provincial Hospital in Tari. More causalities are expected to be reported in the coming days as volunteers are dispatched to gather reports.

Tari-Pori MP and Finance Minister James Marape says about 40% of Papua New Guinea's revenue will be affected if the Hides operations shuts down. Minister Marape says the government is confident that this won't really affect the budgetary allocation for 2018.

Hela's political leaders also joined Minister Marape and Governor Philip Undialu to show solidarity and support towards addressing the plight of their people affected.

The provincial disaster response team in Hela is also working together to address the situation.

The National Government has committed K450million towards the disaster. The disaster committee has made allocations for the initial K100.

K40million will be spent to fix the road infrastructures damaged by the earthquake so that affected areas are accessible for relief supplies to be delivered. K10million to assist schools and education institutions buildings damaged by the disaster and another K10million for health services. K23 million has been set aside for transport, logistical support and other areas to provide relief assistance.

The remaining K350million will also be expended on the same purposes once assessment reports of the extent of the damages are confirmed and brought to the disaster team's attention.

In a statement released today Oil Search has committed K6million in donations in cash and kind in disaster relief efforts to both Hela and SHP.

The Australian Government has begun to fly it's supplies to Moro on its Australian Defence Force Hercules plane loaded with relief supplies. New Zealand's donations will arrive tomorrow (Monday 5th March).

HIGHLANDS HIGHWAY DIARY (Part 2) - Roadblocks Welcomed Us Into Disaster Affected Hela Province



The road trip to Tari began at 10am from Mendi as we drove into areas that were affected by the earthquake in the Southern Highlands and Hela provinces.


Parts of the roads in the Southern Highlands province were partly blocked by debris from landslips caused by the earthquake.


At Poroma we were confronted by some men at a roadblock armed with bushknives and a shotgun charging K200 for every vehicle that passes through the section.


We handed them K100 they refused to let us through and demanded another K50 to be paid. Upon payment they removed three huge boulders they've used to block the road with.


We went on through to Nipa station, the roads weren't in good condition either. We were anticipating another roadblock as we drove past.


For most of us on board it was a first-time experience for us to have traveled through a roadblock in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea.


We drove passed Tari gap into Ambua where we were stopped just before Dauli bridge. A fight has erupted and two people were shot by the enemy faction just minutes before we arrived. The incident occurred during a "rausim haus karai" ceremony of a child who was killed during the earthquake on Monday.


It was an unfortunate incident to have transpired during a time of disaster in the province.


So far Tari hospital has reported 16 deaths from the disaster and it's expected to increase as reports are still coming in.


More than 200 volunteers (mostly public servants) have been engaged by the Hela Provincial Disaster team to assist in providing assistance and support.


Hela political leaders James Marape, Petrus Thomas and Governor Philip Undialu have held discussions with the disaster team on how to act on addressing the issue.


There have also been 37 confirmed deaths in Southern Highlands and 25 unconfirmed deaths reported. 


The  death toll is expected to increase in the coming days as rescue efforts continue.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

HIGHLANDS HIGHWAY DIARY (Part 1) 2018

Section of the Highlands Highway between Giluwe and Iallibu in the Imbongu district.


My journey to Mendi Southern Highlands province began with a 5am dash from Lae on a landcruiser with four passengers on board.

We enjoyed a good two hours drive to Yonki and then navigated through bad road conditions to Goroka. Road conditions between Goroka and Kundiawa weren't that bad with sections at Chuave being upgraded and sealed. The dusty road from Kundiawa passed Mingende all the way to Barawagi desperately needs upgrading.

We stopped by at Mt Wilhelm lodge to take a breather, earthquake aftershocks caught us by surprise as we left Kundiawa.

Grey clouds approached us as we head into Jiwaka.

Jiwaka sections of the highway from Waghi Bridge towards Minj needs to be expanded as houses and gardens have lined up the roadside. Vehicles trying to avoid potholes can easily collide or crash into the communities.

Rain closed in on us at Kuli Gap as we heard into Mt Hagen. The scars from Monday's earthquake prominently shows on the hillside as we drove past.

Vehicles lined up and moving at a snail pace negotiating potholes and a heavy one way traffic along the main highway. The proposed four lane highway promised by the National Government since 2013 is yet to come to reality.
Mt Hagen market is another pigsty. Debris from food wastes and betelnut spittles formed another layer on top the part bitumen road.

It was 3pm as we arrived at Hagen Central and headed for Rabiamul Catholic Mission where we will camp for the night. I headed straight for the bed for some well deserved rest.

Things in Mt Hagen didn't quite changed in the last decade. An international airport without better roads and responsible citizens all caused by petty politics in the province. It is an hell of an experience for a new comer into this once prestigious township.

The Catholic and Lutheran Churches along with other Pentecostal denominations are doing their best to upkeep the city. The town council is not that effective that the Central Business District is becoming filthy with rubbish. Kaiwe Market seems to become a breeding ground for drug addicts and a pigsty filled with petty criminals and street peddlers.

The next day we got ready and set for an hour drive to Mendi. The road from Togoba junction in Tambul Nebiliyer was sealed all the way to Iallibu. Imbongu roads from Kaupena has been given little upgrade over the last five years.

We drove up to Walume junction, O'Neill highway led on to Ialibu-Pangia as we drove up to a place where the sun doesn't shine and look across to Lake Ialibu-Pangia and the site where the proposed university will be built.

Drizzles of rain led us down to Mendi Valley and into Mendi town. A peaceful setting as we drove looking down at Wara Mendi and into the township. We arrived at the Mendi Catholic Diocese centre where we were treated to a delicious dinner courtesy of the Catholic brothers in Mendi.

Got our stuff ready, visited a couple of sites in Mendi destroyed by the earthquake and we are back to planning our trip to Hela. Mendi and Southern Highlands people are peace loving citizens, it's just petty politics that divides the people.

Join me in my next trip to Hela to read about part two of my Highlands Highway diary.