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By Peter Korugl

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Oct. 4) - Over 2,000 people were killed, three million displaced and over PGK78 million [US$50.3 million] spent as a result of natural disasters between 1997 and 2002, figures released by the Government showed.

Minister for Inter-Government Relations Job Pomat said data compiled by the National Disaster Centre revealed that those deaths reported were caused by 63 natural disasters over the five-year period.

"Some three million people were affected and the cost of relief operations and rehabilitation during the five-year period was estimated at over PGK78 million [US$27 million]," Mr. Pomat said.

The minister revealed those details when he officially opened the fourth disaster conference in Lae last Tuesday night.

Pomat said in the 2005 World Disaster Report, natural calamities claimed the lives of 250,000 people worldwide in 2004 in 360 reported disasters, compared to just over 84,000 killed in 1995 in 239 reported disasters.

"On the global scale, the number of disaster events was increasing in frequency … the trend threatened the safety and security of people, property, economies and the environment.

"Therefore, it was important that development plans accommodate disaster-risk reduction and disaster management issues," Pomat said.

In his first official engagement as minister responsible for natural disasters, Pomat told the experts in disaster management in PNG, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands attending the week-long conference that the Government was aware of the importance of disaster risk reduction and management.

The minister said logistical and language constraints hampered efforts to manage disasters and reduce risks in the country.

Pomat said the Government must be seen to provide leadership so that PNG could marshal its development partners and communities to realize and come to reach an acceptable degree of self-reliance and self-sufficiency.

Pomat said this was not to say that PNG, as a developing country, was free of challenges like limited natural resources and fragile environment, scattered islands resulting in high freight costs, high energy costs, poor physical infrastructure, low human and institutional capacities and heavy dependence on public sector for goods and services. He said, "The Government has already introduced policy initiatives to bolster funding and capacity building."

He said pending a full briefing; he would ensure that these initiatives were implemented in line with Government’s request for a practical and efficient disaster risk reduction and management system tailored to the needs of this country. He said PNG traditional communities had ways to cope with disasters but the transitional community today was more at risk because traditional coping procedures were overlooked.

"Are you doing enough to monitor and reduce the risk of injuries and deaths to some acceptable level? Are you doing enough to monitor and reduce the risk of human induced events that adversely affect people or property?" Pomat asked the participants.

He said if PNG did not accept responsibility to deal with natural or non-natural disasters now, they had the potential to turn into disasters causing serious disruptions such as loss of life, loss of property and severe damage to the environment.

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