Conflict, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis: Papua New Guinea shows how to prepare

Papua New Guinea, Asia
Date Publish: 
14 Mar 2014

Papua New Guinea, one of the world’s least-explored countries, is home to about 8 million people, 80 per cent of whom live outside urban centres. Despite  a boom in the extraction industry which has made PNG the sixth fastest-growing economy in the world, over a third of its inhabitants live on no more than USD 1.25 per day.

The country sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire which makes it prone to a host of natural disasters, including earthquakes, storms, floods, landslides and tsunamis, many of which go unreported as they happen in remote communities which lack communications means. In addition, localized conflicts happen in many regions, resulting in loss of life, displacement, and disruption to livelihoods. In recent years, coastal erosion has become a serious threat, with many coastal communities on the verge of simply falling into the sea.

Labu Tale (population 662) in Morobe Province, on the north coast has become the first village in the country to develop a disaster risk management plan, with the help of IOM. Home to 700 people, the village sits on a narrow strip of land between the sea and a lagoon that runs on the other side. The location means it is vulnerable to earthquakes and flooding from rising sea levels and tsunamis, which damage homes and food gardens. Tribal clashes also destroy villagers’ livelihoods.

The pilot project was developed over the course of eight months by IOM and Morobe Provincial Disaster Centre, with funding and support from the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) within USAID. Together they facilitated community based disaster risk reduction  training, awareness raising including disaster drills which were attended by many residents including women, youth, children and people who are living with disabilities, and produced a disaster risk management plan which provides comprehensive guidelines on hazards mapping, vulnerability and capacity mapping and how to respond when a disaster hits. A central part of the project was the construction of a wooden bridge across the lagoon which provides an escape route to higher ground during flooding. This is a prime example of how a community can solve local disaster challenges with local resources without external support.