PORT MORESBY - A photo posted on Facebook showing dried freshwater fish at Wewak market has sparked a discussion on the future of the Sepik River.
In the river’s headwaters, the Frieda copper and gold mine is pushing ahead with its development plans.
The Sepik is 1,100km long and empties into the Bismarck Sea. The river system’s 430,000 people use the river for food, education, transport, health and culture.
What they want is a truly holistic economic approach to development.
They believe that development must add value, not subtract from the people’s lives. Their river must be protected at all costs.
There was a strong response on Facebook from people wanting to ban the mine, the main argument being that mining will take away the people’s livelihoods.
“Sepik has always been sustaining us,” said Brian Singut. While another comment from Howard Sindana said, “It is our food source and supermarket. Sepik just gives.”
The East and West Sepik provincial governments are preparing to launch their biggest copper and gold mine but the people’s concerns are yet to be heard.
The people have many reasons to save this river, one of the richest, largest and last remaining unspoiled rivers in the Pacific.
In the Sepik river system, humans and nature have happily co-existed to this day.
As one commentator said: “It is a rich cultural and ecological storehouse; rich in stories of how a myriad of species and beings can exist in the same space without competition and hurting each other.”
The art and stories from the Sepik are unique. At the centre of them are the pukpuk and the hausman, depicting so much of the region’s culture and history.
Its strength, its sources of knowledge and wisdom, the artistic expression of the human and spiritual worlds, and always the promise of sustenance long into the future.
Until the present day western influences have intruded but slowly but now fears of fast moving change are real.
In the Sepik wetlands, crocodile farmers have reported earnings of more than K300,000 to their families in 2018.
The Sepik River provides food, game, material for handicrafts – all securing income for these people who know what it is to live at ease with nature.
Environmental groups have documented various flora and fauna and say the Sepik River and its basin is the second richest biodiversity region in Papua New Guinea.
The Upper Sepik is currently on the list to be recognised as a world heritage site.
Other people are concerned about the environment impact statement for the Frieda project.
In this very long document, they say, there is no clear mention of the direct impacts of mining and the appropriate mitigation measures in place if something goes wrong.
And three other large projects have been lumped into the same environment impact statement. The document is currently being reviewed.