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By Euralia Paine

SUVA, Fiji (Islands Business Magazine, January 2008) –In November 2007, in the wake of the passing of Papua New Guinea’s budget of K8 billion and on the eve of the UN Climate Change Convention in Bali, continuous heavy rain, intense flooding and strong winds brought on by Cyclone Guba ravaged the Oro Province of Papua New Guinea.

It left thousands of Oro people homeless and about 250 dead.

The wrath of Cyclone Guba... Beama village covered with debris as a result of the flooding and high seas.

Oro province is situated north of the nation’s capital Port Moresby, and is only a 30-minute flight on Air Niugini from the capital.

Papua New Guinea is a country where rising sea levels and volcanoes continue to threaten the livelihood in the island and coastal provinces.

A devastating tsunami hit the northern part of the country almost a decade ago and a total of 2000 people perished. The latest disaster has become yet another catastrophe that has united Papua New Guinea’s 5 million people in search for answers to the dramatic change in climate.

During the disaster, the province lost its entire infrastructure in terms of vital links between the districts and the main centre Popondetta, resulting in the closure of the province’s main income earner, the palm oil mill.

Twenty two bridges and culverts were either washed away or damaged by the floods during five days (November 12 to 16) of non-stop rain. Roads were washed away and the main pump which supplied the Popondetta town’s water supply was destroyed.

The main wharf at Oro Bay became submerged by high seas and the entrance to the port was filled up with silt and debris from the flooded rivers preventing ships from navigating their way in and cutting off delivery of basic supplies to the entire province.

Airline flights were cancelled as the provincial airport was deemed inaccessible due to the destruction of two large bridges on either side of the airport.

Christmas time with families became a far-off dream for many public servants and other workers scattered around the province.

A damage assessment by the Works and Transport Minister, Don Polye has put a figure of "at least K200 million" as the amount required to rebuild the province’s infrastructure. Polye said rebuilding the bridges would be the most expensive challenge adding that the 100-metre reinforced concrete and steel bridge spanning the Kumusi River alone would cost K70 million to replace.

Oro province is famous for the arduous Kokoda Track in the Owen Stanley Ranges where Allied Forces, including Australians, successfully fended off the Japanese and won World War Two in 1945.

Oro province is also infamous for some of the most notorious battles fought during the war—places like Buna, Eroro, Gona, and Sananda, still ring a haunting bell in the ears of surviving diggers of Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

These places were the worst hit. Well-hidden ammunition like bombs, mortars, grenades and bullets have been exposed or moved from their resting places making it dangerous not only for the local people but also for government agencies and private contractors tasked with reconstruction of roads and bridges.

Truly bringing to the fore the meaning of the phrase ‘land of the unexpected’, the catastrophe has not been sympathetic to the lesser creatures either. Crocodiles and snakes, whose homes have also been destroyed, are out looking for food too, posing another threat to people who want to rebuild their lives. Locals have reported numerous sightings of crocodiles along riverbanks, both inland and along the coastline.

The government also approved the release of K15 million in early December for relief work.

As aid continues to be distributed to outlying areas of the province, temporary road links are being restored, and a temporary sea port has been established at Gona for sea-borne relief supplies to be delivered by barges from Port Moresby and Lae in the Morobe Province. Much-needed medical supplies continue to be airlifted and distributed to prevent malaria and water-borne diseases.

Aid to the province is pouring in from donations through non-government agencies; churches; provincial governments and individuals.

The charitable gesture for the flood-stricken is probably no more evident than in a sales promotion of prepaid cards organised by the government-owned telecommunications company—PNG Telikom. Twenty-toea (K0.20) from every prepaid card sold went to the Oro Disaster Appeal. A total of K90,000 was raised in just two weeks.

This is the spirit which has elicited the corporate sector to respond by establishing a Disaster Appeal Fund whose aim is to continue to also assist other Papua New Guineans stricken by such natural disasters in future.

In just three days of setting up the "Halivim Wantok Disaster Appeal", the total amount donated reached K305,000 with K100,000 coming from Nambawan Super Limited.

The Appeal Fund will act as the collection point for both corporate and public cash donations.

Islands Business Magazine

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