Papua New Guinea: Training young and old in disaster preparedness
For a country as disaster-prone as Papua New Guinea, with a history of deadly cyclones, earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis, it is surprising that the Centre for Disaster Reduction was not established until 2002.
“Before then, nothing was being offered in disaster preparedness, Lara Aisi, a staff member at the centre which is housed at the University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby,” told IRIN.
The centre was the brainchild of Hugh Davies who told IRIN: “We had no funding except from the university for the first three years and then UNICEF [the UN Children’s Fund] provided support starting in 2006 for the salary of the centre’s director.” UNICEF is committed to continuing such support until additional funding can be secured.
“Our dream was that the course [covering such areas as geology, disaster reduction and an introduction to disaster management] would draw lawyers and doctors and others, and educate and raise awareness and get the nation truly prepared,” said Davies.
In many ways that dream is slowly being fulfilled: According to the acting director, Joseph Espi, “more than one hundred people have now attended the course and I expect an additional 50-75 will take it in the coming year.”
After graduation many of the students go on to train countless others throughout the country.
The 10-week programme uses course books that detail the dynamics of volcanoes, landslides, earthquakes, tsunamis and other disasters, mostly with real life examples that have occurred in the region.
Just looking at volcanoes, Papua New Guinea has 14 active and 22 dormant ones that pose a threat to more than 200,000 people, according to one of the course books entitled Disaster! Reducing the Effects of Natural Disasters in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific.
The course also identifies the most disaster-prone areas in Papua New Guinea and teaches the basics of disaster preparedness and mitigation. Students make field trips to look at potential disaster sites, including potential landslides and active volcanoes.
Jack Siroi, disaster management programme coordinator for Caritas Papua New Guinea, was one of the first to attend the course. He said that in his class, as in subsequent ones, there have been provincial disaster management officials and representatives from the National Disaster Centre and non-governmental organisations. Some students were even flown in from the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, funded by AusAID, to attend the course.
“For me, it was highly informative, understanding the mechanics of volcanoes and earthquakes. I came away knowing how to locate the dangerous zones,” said Siroi. Since then I have gone around and done the disaster preparedness and mitigation training myself. I’ve trained more than 50 people in four provinces.”
“One function of the centre is to raise awareness in communities throughout Papua New Guinea about potential threats,” according to Espi.
It uses some of its course material - a set of graphic and informative posters produced by the country’s volcano watch centre (the Rabaul Volcano Observatory) - in educational events for the general public to inform them about disasters and disaster preparedness.
Colourful posters, produced with the support of the National Disaster Centre, AusAID and other agencies, identify the high-risk volcanoes in Papua New Guinea and their locations; the various types of volcanoes and how they react; the ways to mitigate disaster and reduce vulnerability to volcanic hazards; and the warning signs of a tsunami and where to seek safety.
Most recently, the centre, in cooperation with UNICEF’s education programme, designed and helped produce a large board game called Risk Land. It is intended for young children. They walk on the game board and discover various potential disasters - an earthquake here, a tsunami there - and read directions on how to protect themselves and their families against such disasters.
“We’ve so far distributed the game to 27 schools in Port Moresby to test its effectiveness, Espi told IRIN. “It’s a success.” Now the centre with the help of UNICEF is reproducing the game and making it available initially in five of the provinces that face the greatest threats from volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis - all in the hope of educating a new generation on disaster preparedness, mitigation and response.