Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tidal floods in Papua New Guinea

Pati Gagau, NZAID’s manager in Port Moresby, gives a local perspective to the recent king tides and flooding in Papua New Guinea.

What has been the focus of your work since the tides and flooding?

Pati: Since the tides and flooding, we have been working very closely with the National Disaster Centre (NDC), which is the PNG Government entity responsible for coordinating the relief response. NDC has taken a proactive leadership role in working with donor partners, local and international NGOs, and provincial disaster coordination centres in the affected areas to provide much needed supplies such as water, food, and building materials. The New Zealand Government has contributed NZ$300,000 to help with relief efforts, and we are working with local NGOs to utilise this funding to meet some of the needs identified.

How are people in the flooded areas lives being affected now that the water has subsided?

Pati: Many people have been displaced with the loss of their homes, personal belongings, food gardens, livestock, and water sources because of the floods. The transformation from changes to their normal pattern of lifestyle, as well as having traditional/sacred places destroyed will have a long-lasting effect on people, particularly the older generation. People's diet and way of life will change dramatically, especially when coastal people who have lived most of their lives close to the water are relocated inland.

What is the attitude of people in PNG to the situation?

Pati: NDC have confirmed that almost 60,000 people have been affected by the disaster across six provinces and outer islands in the northern region of PNG. The print media has been running reports every day since the events started a week ago, and there has been a lot of sympathy and support expressed by the general public. GoPNG has been commended by many for the quick response in funding the disaster-stricken areas. The loss of personal effects such as tools for gardening/trades, cooking utensils, clothes, beddings, etc will have an impact on rural people affected, as these are things they will struggle to replace. Bush materials for building houses are not so much of a problem but to purchase nails and other building materials are often difficult. As a result people tend to rely on outside assistance in the first instance.

How often do king tides like this occur?

Pati: Sea surges of this nature do not occur often as far as we know. But PNG has seen its fair share of sea and flooding disasters over time, including tsunamis as well as flooding as the result of heavy storms (Oro Province was heavily affected by floods in 2007, for example). Rising sea levels resulting from climate change are also having an ongoing impact on PNG's low-lying coastal areas, including small offshore islands and atolls that are home to isolated communities, and could expose coastal areas to further risk in future.

Is there anything that could be done differently in the future to minimise the effect of king tides?

Pati: Not really, in our opinion. It is tempting to suggest that coastal communities relocate to higher ground to guard against future sea surges. But many areas lack higher ground nearby, and many communities are likely to strongly resist attempts to change their lives as the result of extraordinary sea conditions. But as sea levels in some areas continue to rise, inevitably some communities will be forced to start reconsidering their options.

Papua New Guinea – quick facts
  • Papua New Guinea is the largest Pacific Island country but has the lowest living standards
  • The population of 6.1 million is set to double in 25 years
  • 40 percent of the population live in poverty
  • 85 percent of the population live in rural areas
  • There are over 800 language and ethnic groups
  • Most of the population are subsistence farmers
  • NZAID's total bilateral assistance to Papua New Guinea (PNG) in 2007/08 was NZ$21.5 million.

    For more information about NZAID's programme in Papua New Guinea, see the Papua New Guinea page on the NZAID website,

    Read the Minister of Foreign Affair’s media release on New Zealand's contribution to the flood relief efforts in Papua New Guinea.

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