FATHER Taison Kuringi, local priest of Mang Catholic Mission at Kandep in Enga Province, volunteered to chair the District Frost Relief Committee when the crop-killing frosts hit in August.
Fr Kuringi (pictured) saw at first hand the extent of destruction caused by the prolonged El Nino induced drought, frosts and hailstorms.
He also saw the bushfires everywhere in Kandep bringing even more devastation to an already deteriorated situation - including seven houses at Lopte village burnt to ashes, the blame heaped on one reckless man who started the fire.
Thirty-four pigs were paid immediately as compensation to avert an imminent tribal fight.
Kandep has suffered the worst disaster in recorded time and Fr Kuringi’s heart ached to see the people suffer. He wanted to help as best he could.
Even today, you can see the heaps of stones marking the sites on the trade routes where people perished from hunger during past disasters.
This time, Fr Kuringi encouraged the people to wait patiently for the government and aid donor agencies to help like they did in the 1972 major frost. The priest and his committee then drew up an ambitious plan to seek assistance with food supplies, vines, cuttings and seeds for Kandep’s 80,000 people.
The cost of the relief operation amounted to over K54 million and it will extend into mid-2016 when the staple food, sweet potato, is expected to mature.
The plan was presented to the local member and Opposition Leader Don Polye to take up.
But, through the National Disaster Office, the O’Neill government allocated only K30 million for all of Papua New Guinea.
In addition, all 89 districts were authorised to use the K2 million in their District Services Improvement Program for relief operations.
Other relief supplies were donated by the Gutnius Lutheran Church, the Catholic Church and Governor Peter Ipatas who went in person to hand over 17,000 bags of rice to the starving people of Kandep.
Peter Mision Yaki, executive director of Enga Development Forum who is coordinating fund raising efforts, said much help has also been received from embassies, business houses and private individuals in both cash and kind.
He said over K290,000 in cash, kind and pledges was received at an initial fundraising event in Port Moresby late in August with another K270,000 being contributed in cash, kind and pledges at a second event.
Mr Yaki said the funds are held in a trust account in Wabag and that fundraising activities will continue with people in all affected areas benefiting.
Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop, last week visited Wabag and said Australia will donate K10.2 million for relief work in six provinces including Enga.
Don Polye thanked the Australian government and other donors for their support when PNG needed their assistance most.
He also thanked the O’Neill-Dion government, Governor Peter Ipatas, Dr Samson Amean, the Provincial Disaster Committee, Peter Mision Yaki, Fr Taison and others for helping the people of Kandep.
“I express my profound gratitude for their help in this time of need,” Mr Polye said. “We can play politics when the time comes but right now I thank you all for helping our people. We must always put politics aside in times of nationwide disasters of this magnitude.”
He appealed to the national government to provide more funding for Kandep because it is one of the worst hit areas in PNG and the people’s predicament is not yet over.
In every direction, the land had been turned into a brown desert. There are endless patches of black where bushfires have wiped out homes, trees and other property.
During the last major frost of 1972, the colonial kiaps were in charge of Kandep. Relief supplies poured in – white and brown rice, cartons of meat, fish, cooking oil, bags of flour, tea, sugar, cooking oil and even Sunshine milk.
Sweet potato vines, sugarcane cuttings, taro, tapioca, coconuts and marita came from all over PNG. Australian Army helicopters flew in and distributed the supplies to outlying areas and wherever people lived.
The kiaps ensured donations were distributed fairly and equally and in an orderly manner each week. Cups were used to distribute rice to every individual in Kandep. The people were content and managed to quickly revert to normalcy.
Now, Fr Taison is happy that the government responded by providing the people with relief supplies but he feels one bag of rice was not enough to last a month. Large families will suffer the most from this policy.
“I encourage the people to ration the rice and work hard now that the rains have come,” Fr Taison said.
“People must not sit around and play cards and expect that supplies will keep on coming.”