Living on the frontline

Aug 18, 2016

Mama Bii and her lost garden

Mama Bii is a single mother. Her dream is to educate her only son and give him a brighter future. She was close to realizing that plan – her son is in his final school year – until this year’s flood devastated all her crop and the only fertile piece of land she had.

Ever since her husband left her, few years after their son was born, Mama worked hard, growing vegetables and selling them in the local market. With the money she earned she paid her son’s school fees and provided food for the family.

In early January 2016 the village named Dona in North Waghi district, where Mama Bii lives in, was flooded along many other small communities in Jiwaka province. Floods affected more than 2000 people in the region, leaving them without crops, livestock and some – without houses. Mama Bii’s garden, which was the only source of income for her and her son was also destroyed.

Due to this flood, Mama Bii could only pay half of her son’s school fees in 2016. She is terrified of the thought that after all these years her son may be dropped out of school.

Far more than often, small-scale natural disasters like this happen regularly in the country, and in most cases they pass unnoticed. They are often not reported or recorded, therefore limited or no support is provided to affected population. Yet these regular small-scall disasters are reported to be responsible for 40 % of total annual losses caused by natural disasters globally.

“Our province is one of the new provinces in the country, and communities here regularly face negative impacts of small-scale disasters”, says Mr. John Kupul, Provincial Disaster Coordinator (PDC) for Jiwaka. “And unfortunately, most of these small-scale disasters do not have the same significance, compared to other bigger-scale disasters that are aired on national TV channels”.

One of the long-term solutions to address the issue of reporting is to put in place a proper information management system for disasters. This will help to collect, analyse and disseminate information on disasters and mobilize required support from the Government, humanitarian partners and other relevant actors.

In July 2016, UNDP and the National Disaster Centre has embarked on developing such a system. Initial task is to identify the current gaps followed by technical support in developing first-of-its kind disaster information management system, technically referred to as ‘Disaster Loss Database’.

The beta version of the information system is planned to be ready by mid-2017 and will help maintain disaster-related situational awareness across the country. Once the information management system is populated with the existing data, it will also help National Disaster Centre, the Government of PNG and other partners understand dynamics of what type of disasters are causing most damage to people and infrastructure, and geographically identify most disaster prone regions in the country. This type of analytical work is used by other countries in the region to channel existing resources in order to reduce vulnerability of households and communities. .

More importantly, over time, the system will help Mama Bii and thousands of other hardworking people like her to withstand disasters and pursue their modest dreams.

As for the existing difficulties that Mama Bii is facing, some of her immediate needs will be partly addressed thanks to the support from Mr. John Kupul, PDC of Jiwaka, as well as PNG Red Cross branch in Western Highlands who are mobilizing resources in the form of non-food items.

Thanks to the support of these partners, there is a hope that next year her son will finish school and pursue higher education to realize the future that his mother has been dreaming about.

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Media Contacts:

Assel Tleof assel.tleof@undp.org