We had systems that worked. Why did we abandon them?

houseWe have to get this right if we are to thrive in this country: The quality of transport infrastructure – especially roads and bridges – determines the price of food.  Apart from consumption, this single factor influences the rate of supply and demand to a large extent.

Economists can argue about the theory.  But if you ask any kaukau and broccoli  seller in Lae or Madang where produce from the highlands ends up, they will tell you why their prices are high in many instances.

If a road section is damaged (which does happen a lot),  the bags of food have to be shouldered to the other side of the road where another vehicle has to be found. The carriers have to be paid and the vegetable dealer pays twice for transport.

Where does he pass on the cost?  To the consumer in Madang or Lae.  The process is repeated if there is one damaged road section in the highlands and another along the Watarais – Madang section of the highway.

The cost doubles.

Papua New Guinea’s food security challenge has to be confronted on multiple fronts. At the top of the list of priorities should be local production and food security followed by the country’s food distribution network – Roads and bridges.

Food production and research hubs…If that’s what you want to call them… have to be reestablished.  I say reestablished because we had them in the 1970s and 1980s.  They were called DPI (Department of Primary Industry) stations.

Those stations were located in strategic locations around the country.  They were nuclei for research, agricultural support and seed distribution.  Government workers lived and worked in those stations.   Some still do. But without the support they used to get.

Those stations were connected by well-maintained road networks managed by the Works Department  who had a similar system of works camps along highways and feeder roads.

The DPI stations supported farmers by providing advice, managing disease outbreaks and impacts of natural disasters.    This was done by the Government of  Papua New Guinea.

We seem to be suffering from generational amnesia.  It is baffling that we keep trying to reinvent the wheel when we already had systems that worked for our people.  What can’t we bring it back?

At the turn of the century when the rest of the UN was discussed climate change and deforestation, very few remembered the forestry stations throughout the country where government officers actively encouraged village communities to plant trees.

Remnants of the those activities can still be found in the highlands.  We need to get our kids to love planting trees every day. Not only on one day of the year because foreign organizations say we should.

Today, we complain about the cost of curative health care.  We talk about the cost of cancer treatment overseas. We battle lifestyle diseases like obesity and diabetes.  Where is the preventative health care message?

Thirty years ago, it was mandatory for schools to teach preventative health.

“Eat heathy foods.”  That was on a poster in my classroom.  Other posters discouraged drinking fizzy drinks and eating sweets.  These posters had Papua New Guinean faces and were produced by… wait for it… THE GOVERNMENT OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA!

On matchboxes, companies had messages of self-reliance and independence.

“Grow your own taro.”

“Grow your own sugarcane.”

Have we lost our sense of independence and the self-reliance we had for over 60,000 years?

Bottom line is, we already had systems in place.  Systems that worked. We listened to wrong advice in the 1990s and look where it got us.

My rant ends here.

 

 

Straight outta Menyamya: Adventures with bows and arrows

10669054_920415271308185_8360830716521188276_oThe primary weapon of choice for the tribes spread out over the Upper Watut to Aseki, Menyamya, Kaintiba in the Gulf Province and Marawaka in  Easter Highlands is the bow and arrow.

Theirs  was a culture into which I was immersed at an early age.

Every boy had to know how to make a bow. The men carried black palm bows which were incredibly difficult to draw.  The bows for play, were  made of bamboo.

I quickly learned that not all bamboo are equal.

The bamboo for bow making could not be harvested too young.

It had to reach a certain level of maturity so it was flexible and not brittle. It’s difficult to explain in written text, unfortunately. Those who made their own bows would understand.  The knife came in handy always. Every kid had a knife with which you use to cut  and shape the bamboo. Each end had to be pointed to allow for the bowstring to sit comfortably.

The length of the bow was shaved with a very sharp knife or a piece of  broken bottle. It was a skill we learned and perfected. Once the bow was done, the next step was to go into the  tall patches of kunai and find the clumps of pitpit that made perfect arrows.  The type of pitpit grew everywhere.

For the grownups, the bows were made of  black palm and   they were incredibly difficult to draw. The arrows were not fired  from eye level like in the movies. In most instances,  the archer would raise the bow up to the sky with the arm holding the bow, straight. The string would be pulled back and in one fluid motion, the archer would draw and  fire from the hip.

The archers, learned over generations that without  feathered arrows, the projectiles when fired, would travel in an upward curve. It was deadly at short distances.

We imagined our own battles when we gathered to “fight” out pitpit wars.

Our teachers at Menyamya Community School banned bows and arrows in the school premises because a few birds and boys got injured.  That didn’t stop the battles from continuing after school.

The adventures continued on the weekends when we convened along the river banks when the floods came.

This is another chapter from Menyamya. It is an adventure unfinished and will never be…at least in spirit…the memories live on in time.

 

How social media users helped us cover the 2018 earthquake disaster

PNG-earthquake-Thomas_Nybo_-14
Unicef image

For at least a week after the 26th of February 2018 when a 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck Papua New Guinea,   it was relatively difficult getting into the hard hit provinces like  Southern Highlands and Hela.

 

The security situation had worsened in some places and roads especially in the Nipa  District  had been cut off in some sections.  Without vehicle access, physical presence on the ground was a remote possibility for news crews.

However, most mobile communications towers remained largely unaffected.  This gave  an opportunity for people in affected villages to provide a steady stream of images, audio and  text updates of the damage that had occurred.  Much of the information came through SMS,  Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. Such information created and supplied by social media users is referred to as  User-Generated Content (UGC).

I have made references to UGC  several times and given lectures about its importance as a critical link in times of natural disasters.  In 2018, the  importance of UGC came to the fore during the earthquake.

The content  social media users supplied gave us an insight into the extent of the damages and eventually led us to begin collating statistics of  the death toll  in the initial 48 hours of the disaster.

The data is raw and the statistics need to be assembled.

When you are mapping out the locations, you need to have a visual understanding of what is happening and where.   As in many parts of  Papua New Guinea, some locations can’t be found on Google maps, most apps don’t work and you have to work from the closest reference points of major villages and district centers.

The  next step is to put aside any temptation for assumption and track down, INDIVIDUALLY, the sources of the content.  This usually starts with secondary sources and works backward to the primary sources of the content.

Sometimes, for some locations, we did it quickly. For others, it took several hours primarily because, people were traveling in between disaster sites to the line of site (LOS) locations of cellphone towers to send off messages.  ‘Crowdsourcing’ and verification combined,  is a slow process.

While social media users want ‘breaking’ news,  accuracy in news delivery is critical to decision making and disaster response planning. 

Also, in times of disaster, good relationships and trust with social media users are  the backbone of good reliable content.

Eventually, we got Facebook users to provide videos of themselves giving updates  from the disaster stricken areas.  They were able to report from the ground providing credible, verifiable evidence of the destruction and also give us leads that helped us collate statistics.

Using the WhatsApp voice function, we were able to give them short instructions on how to record good, useable video footage that eventually ended up being used by news organizations overseas.

The point of writing about UGC, is that we underestimate its value.  Government decision makers also underestimate its value in disaster management planning. This was evident in the 2018 earthquake. With UGC, you can map out a disaster area and plan responses better.

Update for home builders: Using tongue and groove flooring for your building

This is a follow up post for those who have been tracking our building project.  Since the last few posts, many people have inboxed asking about costs and how to get started.  As an update, we’ve started working on the  floors.

I won’t lie to you. It’s  slow  and frustrating as you work to get the resources to make things happen.

I chose to use tongue and groove flooring (T & G as hardware people like to call it.)  There are different kinds of T & G flooring.  The newer types have grooves on all sides that allow the boards to snap into place. They look great but are more expensive.   I chose to go old school, primarily because of cost.

If you need some direction, please feel free to  message me. I can give you rough estimates of how much it will cost and where you might be able to get them.

tg-on-floor

I don’t like plywood floors.  Plywood is  convenient. But  it doesn’t look as pretty as T & G.

 

 

 

Straight outta Menyamya: Clay pistols, pine needle slides and real people

dsc00216Inspired by artist,  Leban Sakale John’s posts, here is my piece.

Menyama is etched in my mind.

I loved every bit of the place and as a boy growing up in arguably one of the best places in the country, I lapped up every minute of it. My brain soaked up the sweet experiences like a sponge.

It was the best place a kid could grow up.

I love pine trees.  In Menyamya, pine trees were everywhere. Every afternoon I ventured into the patches of pine and walked on the beds of slippery needles. I was a soldier, a warrior, armed with a bamboo bow and a handful of pitpit arrows.   Sometimes when the season was right, the pine needles became excellent slippery slopes down which we spent hours sliding down again and again until the earth became bare.

Just before midday, when the wind would pick up, the pines would whisper as the wind caressed the leaves.  The experience was as real as it was poetic.

Near the German  Bingsu’s house in the primary school,  the sweet smell of ground coffee used to waft through the air when we  passed by to go home in the afternoons.  Almost always, we took detours to where good clay deposits could be found.

Grey clay was everywhere.  Clean. Sticky. Malleable.  You could turn that chunk of clay into anything. You were limited only by your imagination.  Every day, I came home dirty. Sometimes with a clay pistol.  I made a bunch of those too.

The current, Menyama MP, Benjamin Phillip, worked at the Anga Development Company…agency… I can’t remember.

Menyamya is where I met Uncle Moses and Aunty Ronda. They were  a couple from the Hetwara, who eventually ended up staying a while at the Haus Boi at the back of the Haus Kiap where we lived. My dad was the district administrator.  Once when I got annoyed with my baby sister,  Uncle Moses, gave me stern advice in his heavy Hetwara accent about the importance of sisters.  It stuck forever. We still have a picture of them somewhere.

Menyama taught me the importance of agriculture and self-reliance.

We ate duck and chicken eggs every day. Duck eggs were larger.  I think a dozen cost K2-K3 We had honey and chickens.   The government DPI station produced it.  They also grew sheep and a few cows.  Those guys were experts.

I eventually bred Muscovy ducks myself. The ducklings were pretty.  Occasionally, a drake would drop by at the pond a bulldozer had dug in the middle stretch of grass were houses have now been built.

Gewe’s dad was a DPI officer, highly skilled in coffee, cardamom and other cash crops.   Talk about food security and commodities, we had right there.

There is so much to tell. I’m getting a bit nostalgic.  Maybe there will be a part 2. I don’t know.

Wagambie: Change of strategy, Police stepping back, community to take responsibility

We, as part of the Global community are going through some of the most challenging times we have ever experienced with the Covid 19 Pandemic spreading all of the world.

Our Government has imposed a State Of Emergency in the bid to stop the virus from spreading. From the media reports we hear our Health system has also been stretched to the limit due to the scarcity of manpower, equipment, facilities and so forth to cater for a large scale outbreak. We must all individually and collectively play our part in preventing the spread of the virus.

I am not a a Health specialist or Doctor to make any assumptions on the virus however based on the information from the WHO and relevant health authorities it is a new virus that has no cure.

Under the SoE, our Controller, who is also the Commissioner of police has issued certain Orders. The Orders were made in consultation with the advice from the Health Sector and other relevant authorities.

As a country, we must collectively abide by these Orders for our own good. We should all comply with the orders not only for us individually, but for our families and for everyone around us.

Police with the assistance of the PNGDF have a duty to enforce the Orders with regards to public order.

This is not easy task and I ask for your cooperation in this difficult time. We Papua New Guineans are family oriented and outgoing people and we love to gather in big groups in occasions like weddings, party, church, funerals and everyday settings . Alot of our rights have been infringed during this time but these sacrifices and deprivation are for the greater good.

Our PM in one of his speech said, as we go into the State Of Emergency, we would have to make sacrifice. This is what we are experiencing now.

I have travelled to Bereina and Kupiano to see for myself how the rural people of Central province are coping and I am aware of the hardship they are facing.

I also understand that people from Central province who live in the City are generally well connected to the village. They take every opportunity to go home when they can. The SOE had affected them also.

Our people in NCD, especially those in the settlements and indigenous Motuan villages whose hunting and fishing areas have been taken up by the City, depend highly on the informal sector have been also been hit hard.

Businesses have had to scale down, in the process laying off non essential staff and some were terminated as the companies were no longer able to operate.

This is not easy.

But SOE Orders must be followed. We have to follow the orders and not to take the risk and regret later as we only have one life to live.

Recently there have been a barrage of complaints of Police brutality, extortion and others.

In some instances, it is the “Cause of Effect.” Meaning, something happened first for the end result to occur.

Non Compliance of SOE Orders. Everyone must tighten their belts during the SOE. Orders are meant to be followed.

It is unfortunate that we receive complaints of unethical behavior from officers whose actions went overboard.

This is subject to an independent investigation by the Internal Affairs Directorate. The Internal Affairs Directorate operates independently away from the NCD and Central Command of which I am Divisional Commander.

The incidents which happened are very unfortunate.

It can be avoided if people cooperate and comply with take the SoE Orders.

Since taking command of NCD and Central we have gradually seen some improvement in Policing. However the SOE has brought to light some unethical behavior by some of my personel. This will not be brushed aside as I have tasked the Metropolitan Superintendent and PPC Central to look into these complaints and to deal with them appropriately on their own merits.

I also want to state, that the majority of the rank and file are focused on getting the job done. Despite manpower shortage they have had to work long hours with hardly any days off since the commencement of SOE. The personal sacrifes many of them have given with very less complaints, I have so much praise for them. They know they are doing this for everyone.

I appeal to members of the public not to generalise all Police personnel as being rogue and corrupt. That is not the case. We have very dedicated hard working women and men in uniform who go out of their own way to protect lives and properties and some of them get hurt and killed in the process.

Metsupt NCD, PPC Central, my police woman and men have a long and hard road ahead to win back public confidence.

I appeal to you, my personnel, take it upon yourselves to bring back that respect and trust. Don’t be downhearted by negative publicity, but take it as a challenge. We can do better. Many good deeds go unnoticed. People will only talk about the bad and easily forget the positive.

Make sure we exercise common sense, restraint and respect. I have been telling you this everytime.

To avoid anymore confrontations, I have as of yesterday changed a couple of strategies in implementing the SOE Orders. We will step back a little and allow the community to take more ownership. We have done what we can. It’s up to the community to be responsible.

On the streets we will take control. I have a duty to protect my rank and file as well as the integrity of my command and the Constabulary.

We will police where we are accepted.

For the criticisms, as a senior Police Officer, I accept it. I am one who take it and adjust on how we go about doing things. Criticisms will not stop me and my personnel from performing our duties, we will strive to perform better to serve our country.

My officers and I are focused in leading our men and women in Blue to serve.

God Bless all of us and keep our country safe.

PNG needs a comprehensive strategy to beat COVID-19 | Allan Bird

It is critical that any government be given all the information it needs to combat any issue. COVID19 is no exception. We all know that our response to many issues has been generally poor in the past. My fear is that we are taking this same approach to COVID19. And I fear that Government is not getting the benefit of good data and by inference good analysis.

COVID19 is no longer a health pandemic. It is an economic and social tsunami that is already causing great devastation across the world. So we need a strategic approach to it. One which sadly our team of experts have failed to provide.

What is our country strategy? What are our strategic strengths as a country? How can we employ these strengths in a national strategy to combat COVID19 and it’s devastating effects?

Should we simply employ what rich western countries are doing? Is that a smart strategy? For the first time in history we have a situation where our traditional friends are under siege. Worried about how COVID19 is affecting their countries. So PNG needs to figure out a way to combat this situation and come out on top.

This is a fight for survival. If we spend all our bullets (resources) and deploy our troops in the wrong corridor, we will lose the war.

So let’s break it down, who is this enemy called COVID19? What do we know about him? What are the strengths of the enemy? What are his weaknesses? First of all, he travels in an infected human host. He can’t survive too long outside a human host. Also a strong healthy human, can withstand COVID19. Mostly old, sick people are high risk. We have no medicine to kill him. This is what we know.

What are our strategic strengths? We are fairly isolated from each other. Most places are difficult for people to get to and hence the virus to get to. We have a young population which is generally healthy and have access to healthy organic food.

What is our weakness? An infected person can bring the virus in from another country through an open border. We also don’t have much money and we have a weak economy and a weak health system.

So what’s the strategy? Where should we deploy our assets to fight the virus? Where are we most vulnerable? And where can we mount our best defense? To me it’s at the entry point. Our borders. This is what I have been saying since COVID19 became an issue several months ago. That’s the front line. Who do we need on the Frontline? Soldiers and police men. Well resourced. That should be 60% of our effort.

Our fall back strategy should be to fight it if it gets past the border into the population. What does that entail? We should be prepared to use our natural topography to cordon off parts of the country that might be infected. Save the other parts from infection. If we contain the virus in certain areas and don’t let it out, then we can survive as a nation.

Thirdly we should protect the golden goose that produces the golden eggs. Our fragile economy. If we expend all our resources on fighting the virus and the economy dies, we die too.

So I want to see a comprehensive strategy. Burning roadside markets and beating up our women who sell food is not a smart strategy. Why is this our focus? Those strong young men we are sending to burn markets should be on the border. Deploy them where they can be most useful.

All of the above strategies we have deployed in East Sepik. I don’t know everything, I have some really smart people in my province who are doing these things. So I am offering our strategy.

And to my usual critics, Government strategy is determined by ministers, not by Governors. Governors have zero input on government strategy formulation. Hence this post. Thank you lo yupla harim.