A CYCLONE that hit Papua New Guinea last week has left much of the diocese of Popondota under water: more than 160 people have been killed; 13,000 left homeless; and bridges, schools, homes, and livelihoods have been ruined.
By Wednesday, when many people were still stranded and without food after eight days, there were fears that they could die of starvation. Only two helicopters are servicing the province of Oro, which is coterminous with the diocese. About 95 per cent of the 133,000 people affected are Anglican, says the diocesan Bishop, the Rt Revd Joseph Kopapa.
In an email on Wednesday, the Bishop said the Anglican Church was the only organisation with the extensive communications, through its health and parish-based radio network, able to make contact.
“The provincial government is truly handicapped. There are no food and fuel supplies, and no transport immediately to dispatch relief supplies to over 130,000 people, who have been without food, shelter, and clothing for the past eight days. People, especially children, are already starving.” The Church needs supplies immediately.
The Secretary of the London-based Papua New Guinea Church Partnership (PNGCP), Chris Luxton, said that continuous heavy rains associated with the category-1 tropical Cyclone Guba had affected the whole province since the flooding started on Wednesday of last week. “The fear now is that the death toll is very likely to rise, as many have not eaten since last Wednesday, and could well die from water-borne diseases. Many people have no clothes,” she said on Wednesday.
The Bishop’s son, Henry Kopapa, compiled a description on Saturday of the initial impact. “Three-quarters of the population of Oro — men, women, and children — are directly affected. Villages along the coast, from Kewnsasap to Manau, are almost submerged with rising sea and expanding river deltas. Flash floods roared down the rivers on Thursday 15th, and information on the extent of the havoc caused is just starting to come in. The Anglican Health Services have so far received updates from their outstations.”
Whole villages have been washed away, and people have moved to higher ground for safety. By the weekend, engineers and some food supplies were flown in by the two helicopters. The diocesan office worked “round the clock” with the Anglican Health Services and the Salvation Army to provide up-to-date information. By Sunday, NGOs had come together to respond to the emergency. Churches and the Red Cross agreed to assess the problem areas, and report to a committee to organise the supply of food, clothes, and medicine, Mr Kopapa said.
The country’s High Commissioner in London, Jean Kekedo, has asked PNGCP to co-ordinate the UK relief effort.
PNGCP is at St Mary Abbots’ Centre, Vicarage Gate, London W8 4HN (phone 020 7937 4159; http://hometown.aol.co.uk/pngcpluxton).