PNG Post-Courier

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (Nov. 19) - Scores of people are dead, 71 as of last night, many are missing and there is widespread devastation throughout the Northern Province, commonly known as Oro.

The entire province has been hit by severe storms which have flooded rivers, washed away bridges and roadways and demolished whole villages. The winds and rain are still hammering the province. This looks like a major disaster on a similar scale to the cyclonic winds that tore Tufi apart decades ago, although this is far more widespread.

History buffs will also recall a more horrendous natural disaster with the volcanic eruption of Mount Lamington in the 1950s, where thousands of people died. The province is yet again suffering from the worst that Nature can deal out.

The Provincial Government headed by Governor Suckling Tamanabae is pleading for help from the National Government and from overseas aid organizations.

In the meantime, the Governor has already begun using a helicopter to distribute desperately needed food for some areas and is planning more rescue missions with the modest provincial resources.

A disaster relief trust fund is to be set up immediately. These are all worthwhile efforts in the first days. However this is when the Papa Government will be tested. Waigani has been tested and found wanting for speed of response in similar disasters in the past.

The National Disaster Centre was having phone problems a few days ago. Let us hope those problems have been rectified and that the disaster center officials are already leaping into the battle to help the storm-ravaged Oro people.

Getting impressive figures racked up in the next few weeks won’t count if people perish in the next few days for want of instant action.

We need a cadre of action officers who can cut the red tape and get relief out to the most needy within hours and the next day or two. At the same time, engineers and planners must be getting short-cut solutions to the bridges and roads that have been washed away.

Getting food, clothing, shelter and medicine to the needy can be done so much better if roads are re-established and ways are found to get across flooding rivers.

This will be a supreme test of our resources. Let us hope, for the Oro peoples’ sake, that we are not found wanting.

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