BANGKOK - I read with interest Professor Howes' assessment of the huge disparity in the provision of services between communities in the Torres Strait Islands and the Middle and South Fly Districts in PNG.
I had the good fortune to visit and work with many communities in Middle and South Fly in 2006 and between 2009-2014 and offer these thoughts.
Communities along the tributaries to the Fly, Strickland and around Lake Murray are for all practical purposes extremely remote.
There are no roads, owing to the near permanently flooded nature of the landscape and families are often days by canoe from the nearest competent health service.
Because of a lack of support and supervision most community health posts and schools closed decades ago when their health workers and teachers returned to their home provinces.
Even if, through arrangements between government and OTML (Ok Tedi Mining Ltd), funds for health and education are available, the logistics of servicing riverine communities in Middle and South Fly - sometimes hundreds of river kilometres distant from the government centres in Balimo and Daru - are beyond their capacity or budgets.
There may be a way to deliver essential services to these remote settings. This involves a close partnership between the government, the communities and their rubber cooperative, North Fly Rubber, which has been working to empower them economically in some cases for over 50 years.
Over the decades North Fly Rubber has established the transport logistics to visit hundreds of remote communities along the Fly, Strickland, Herbert, Lake Murray, and major tributaries the Suki and Aramia rivers
Most importantly it has gained the trust of the communities.
The North Fly Rubber support vessel makes a round trip, all in fresh water, of 2,700 km from Kiunga to Balimo return with a side visit to Lake Murray to support growers and purchase their rubber.
I believe a potential solution to the enormous deficit of services in the Middle and South Fly riverine communities may be for the relevant authorities sit down with the Board of the rubber grower’s cooperative and explore the possibility of adding the delivery and supervision of essential services to their existing scope of operations.