Public service a threat to security & unity
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The Covid-19 ‘new normal’

The 9 Mile market outside Lae city (Michael Dom)

| Diplomatique | Literary Colloquium Berlin

LAE - The global pandemic of Covid-19 has had many repercussions to daily life and keeping abreast with World Health Organisation recommendations, the Papua New Guinea government has also defined the ‘new normal’ for its citizens.

But to thousands of the peri-urban poor, struggling to survive during trying economic times, the impact of policing health measures is just another normal day.

At Nine Mile on the Okuk Highway outside Lae City, PNG’s economic hub, market vendors, mostly mothers, have set up their vegetable selling activities along the side of the road, seated one meter away from moving traffic.

The highway-side markets have been going strong since the middle of May this year, even before the first official nationwide lockdown ended on 2 June. It’s a basic survival need for households with annual incomes less than 2,000 Euro (K8,000).

Nine Mile market is one of a number of popular fresh vegetable markets set up on an informal basis along the highway leading out of Lae.

It operates in the afternoons seven days a week but was officially closed during the April to June enforced Covid-19 lock-down, when an expatriate worker fell ill to the viral infection in a hotel at Ten Mile.

The usual location for the market was an area opposite the current lane, an area negotiated with regular disputation, between local land owners, the community and a poultry company based nearby.

The market place itself is a bare patch of land where fresh vegetables are placed on cut plastic sheets or mats and shade may be provided by large umbrellas or lean-to draped with shading cloth.

Informal marketing is the most important economic earning activity for more than half of the population while it is estimated that only about 15% of the country’s eight million people have formal means of employment.

Yet informal vegetable markets are given scant attention by local level governments for even the most basic services, such as sanitation as simple as a source of clean water to wash hands, let alone a latrine.

Informal market places, such as Nine Mile market are usually set within communities where land use is negotiated with customary land owners who have no obligation to local governments.

It is apparent that local leaders also have no obligations towards community health services.

The best the women marketers at Nine Mile can hope for is that the police won’t turn up to run them off and destroy their produce, as was done to women in a similar predicament in the capital city Port Moresby.

This normal is not new.


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Michael Dom

Read the article in Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu and Deustch here

Daniel Kumbon

At 8am this morning marketers at China town at East Boroko, especially buai sellers who were lined up along the shop fronts panicked and quickly packed up and moved away acting very normal as possible when the police appeared.

I asked one woman with a child to take it easy when her buai spilled onto the footpath when she stood up. I stood shielding her for a while to ensure she picked up all the nuts.

Surely, today is PNG's 45th Independence Day, a time to celebrate. But people celebrate with a full stomach. How can you force a person to smile when their stomach is empty and all they worry about is their next meal?

Indeed the informal markets is the life-line of many families, especially those in urban settings and along highways.

I have seen two women buy vehicles - one a PMV bus from the proceeds of selling buai. It is a real money spinner that people will keep selling no matter what.

They need help and encouragement and shown good health practises for instance provision of rubbish bins, daily collections of the rubbish and build public toilets.

If we authorities keep chasing buai sellers away like I saw today at China town, only for them to resume selling after the police left I wonder if this sort of Band-aid treatment will continue in the next 45 years.

Bernard Corden

I wonder if any of the produce at Nine Mile has been genetically modified, contaminated with glyphosate and fumigated with phosphine or methyl bromide.

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