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Long walk for water: the modernisation of Port Moresby


IT is overwhelming when one tries to comprehend the pace of development taking place in Port Moresby.

A drive around the city gives a clear impression of the huge level of investment the national government is putting into the Papua New Guinea capital in the hope of transforming it into one of the best cities in the Pacific.

The amount of money spent so far has already reached the billon kina mark. The much talked about flyover at Erima is alone costing K800 million.

This is just one of the many huge impact projects that the government through the National Capital District Commission (NCDC) is embarking on.

Initially the hype around the city was greatly optimistic as residents were hopeful of the positives that would come out of the planned developments.

However, recent cases of forced eviction have brought anxiety and confusion into the minds of residents. Many people are now beginning to wonder what the future holds for them.

It is clear that, while these developments are long overdue, they are bringing many problems, the magnitude of which is greater because the city has continuously suffered from poor planning since independence.

The city is now in the middle of a major housing crisis with settlements outpacing formal development and occupying most of the state owned land. Sudden injections in the form of big developments have resulted in many of these settlers being made homeless.

There are countless public servants and working class people who are resorting to settlements due to being priced out of the rental market.

Even public servants with genuine and clear land titles do not have access to basic services such as water and electricity.

Two years ago my family and I moved to Erima after I managed to secure a mortgage over a house there. Although the house was a decent high post three-bedroom place, there was no water running even though we had a bathroom and toilet.

Nevertheless, faced with limited opportunities, we had no choice but to move in and do the best we could. Regardless of the huge costs we would have to bear, we saw this as God’s blessing.

To me it was a one in a million chance for me to get a house with a state title at a bargain price. After we moved in we were told by our neighbours that the only means of accessing water was to walk to the main road and fetch it from common taps.

But we found that water flows through the taps only at certain times of the day, 6-9 in the morning, 12-1 in the afternoon and 6-9 in the evening. There is no exception and mothers, children, fathers, youths, the elderly, employed and unemployed carry bucketloads of water day in and day out from the roadside taps to their houses.

For the few living near the road, distance is not a problem. However the majority have to negotiate the heat of the sun and oncoming vehicles when heading home.

Already a couple of accidents have occurred. One involved a child who, while waiting for his mother, was hit by an oncoming vehicle. Fortunately quick action by the community resulted in the child being rushed to the hospital to receive treatment.

I often wonder what the travelling public think of us when they see people struggling to find water in the heart of the city.

The sight of mothers, fathers and children armed with water containers and convoying it back to their homes is surely a sight that no right thinking government would want to entertain.

Port Moresby as the capital city of Papua New Guinea should portray an image of a city that is setting a benchmark in terms of development.

But this scenario makes me realise that this government does not care for its people and I now to understand the hopelessness that I see in the eyes of the people who live here.

This problem is not confined to Erima, of course, but is widespread and includes 8 Mile, 9 Mile, ATS and other parts of the city.

Given that these areas are home to the majority of city residents one can imagine the magnitude and complexity of the problem.

A couple of days after we moved in, I was informed by neighbours that water had not been a problem until recently when the Eda Ranu (Our Water) utility decided to reduce water pressure due to illegal connections and the ensuing “out of control” water bills.

While I acknowledged Eda Ranu’s move to cut costs, I feel that the State failed me miserably as a land title holder.

I came to the conclusion that nothing would happen in the near future and purchased a 4,500 litre water tank for my family’s use. Given the large size of my family the water runs out quickly and it costs me K330 a month for a water company to refill the tank.

I consider myself lucky but I feel for the majority of people in the community, especially babies, kids and mothers who need water on a regular basis.

Last week I read about NCDC’s plan to inspect houses in the city to make sure residents conform to certain acceptable hygiene and health standards.

I commend the Commission for this initiative, however I see a problem.

Although many ratepayers are willing to pay for garbage collection, the services cannot get to our houses due to poor roads. As a result, I had to dig up the remaining portion of the land at the back of my house to dump the family rubbish.

Other people put rubbish into plastic bags and either burn them or discard them on the side of the road.

There is now a mountain at the back of our house we have to climb to dump our rubbish. The last time I checked, this place was overflowing with rubbish. Oh dear!

I observe the development taking place around Erima. The flyover and Erima junction roundabout currently under construction and people like me who have titles hope they will open up opportunities for Erima to become an attractive suburb.

However, for the majority of landless settlers, these developments are bringing anxiety and confusion given that eviction follows whenever there is development in our city.

The Paga Hill and the Erima Junction incidents show us what the government can do in pursuit of development.

The Erima flyoverWe have read and seen on TV what the government has in store for settlers in 8 Mile, 9 Mile and Burns Peak but so far there has been nothing said about Erima.

In the information vacuum, residents are bombarded with so much speculation and rumour but I remain skeptical until I get some sort of clarification from the horse’s mouth.

As a citizen born and raised in Port Moresby, I have high hopes for the city and I am proud of the development that is taking place. To me it is a breath of fresh air after so many years of stagnation.

However, being a family man, I worry about the future of my community.

Every day as I walk around Port Moresby or pass across the new Erima flyover I ask myself, “Modernisation at whose expense?” I guess only time will tell.


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Busa Jeremiah Wenogo

Thanks John. Yes essentially it boils down to planning. We need better and more proactive city planning to ensure that we minimise problems relating to poor planning.

The government needs to make sure that it protects those who are genuine tax payers.

These people should have access to the basic amenities and services that will compensate for the time and effort they put into developing PNG into a great nation.

Peter Pirape Anage

The article truly captures the struggles of the expanding middle class within the cities and towns around PNG especially POM city.

The government needs to ensure that inclusive development belongs to the "to do basket" instead of subjecting the common people and middle class citizens to the mercy of the dogs.

This country belongs to PNGans and they have first user right over anything (power, water, land, etc) and people in authority need to facilitate for this to happen. God bless PNG.

John Kaupa Kamasua

Busa, I concur with Phil that this is a great piece of journalism!
It provides something like a window into the city we call Port Moresby.

If the city expands some more and further, my fear is that it will cause more of the same destruction and disruptions to people’s way of life. The fear and anxiety gripping the settlers and well-meaning city folks will only increase.

The irony in some of these is that many of the settlers are well-educated and productive members of the city population. They pay taxes, and struggle with everyone else to make the city appear to be what it is.

If I have to make an analogy, the city is like a big snake or crocodile that without ever intending it, is biting its own tail every time it wants to feed. The harder it bites, the more fatal it becomes.

Your article, and the developments that are taking place around us although demonstrate progress, indicate to us the importance of the need to rationalize and strengthen the central and significant role of planning.

Busa Jeremiah Wenogo

Phil and Matthias - Thanks fellas for your comments.

I do hope that this message resonates to the top echelon of power in PNG so that drastic and immediate action is taken to address the plight of the majority of city and town dwellers in PNG.

Mathias Kin

Well written Mr Wenogo - “Modernisation at whose expense?” K1 million used in the city, K800,000 alone on the freeway! And nothing for Angore and Awai Pori?

No wonder they are coming into town in Dash 7 loads! When the highway into that area does link up, we will see these people coming into our capital in truckloads. Leaders, where have we gone wrong?

Phil Fitzpatrick

This is one of the best articles I've read on PNG Attitude Busa.

Clear, concise and to the point, with a telling personal touch - great journalism!

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