Monday, August 25, 2014

MANAM: 10 YEARS AFTER THE ERUPTION


Charles Yanda, former local level government councilor

It has been 10 years since the Manam volcanic eruption  abruptly forced  more than 15000 islanders  to move  to the  mainland of the Madang province.

Many of the families, still living in care centers,  have been left destitute with  very little  fertile land to grow food and little means of generating an income.

For 10 years, both the National and Provincial governments have ignored the plight of islanders making no firm decision  on their resettlement.

Gabriel Kabarapun is a displaced Manam Islander  who has been living  in the Asarumba care center.    He built this house  in 2004 when they were evacuated during the volcanic eruption   and since then, he  has changed  the  sago palm thatch on his roof only once.

Asarumba, like the other Manam  care centers,  is  located on old mission  plantations.   Building materials are scarce and   the  islanders  are not always allowed to get sago thatch and wood  from  the traditional land  that belongs to  the Bogia people.

“I can’t get materials to build  a new house,” he says.  “The posts are slowly rotting, the walls are falling apart.  The  owners of the land don’t allow us to use  their land to get wood or roofing.”

Because  of the scarcity of land  and limited resources,   it has become increasingly common to  find two families sharing one house. 

Gabriel shares  this house  with his nephew. Both men have large families.  The house can not  fit them all.  This  means some family members have use the verandah  as sleeping quarters after the evening meals.

In 2004,  Gabriel and more than 15 thousand people  were forced to leave  their Island home after the Manam volcano suddenly erupted.   


They were placed on  the old plantations with the understanding that a long term solution would be found.

Initially,  tons of  relief  supplies and millions of Kina  came  from both local and international sources.   But  as donor agencies left one by one, the Manam islanders slipped  off  the list of government priorities and were eventually forgotten.

“We are a forgotten people,” says former Local level government councilor, Charles Yanda.  “It the government can look at foreign asylum seekers, what not pay attention to our needs.   We’re Papua New Guineans and we’ve been here for 10 years” 

While there has been much talk about  a permanent solution  for the displaced Manam Islanders,    much of it has been political talk with no  action on the ground.    It  is one of the biggest frustrations  for Yanda. 

“I’ve lost confidence in the government,”  says Bogia landowner, Francis Suku.  They keep telling us that this issue will be resolved. I’ve seen very little.

The Manam population on the care centers  has more than doubled  since the evacuation. There are now an estimated 30 thousand people scattered  along the Bogia coast with remnants of  village communities on the sheltered part of the Island.

The relationship between the Islanders and the  people along the Bogia coast  has not been smooth.  Over the years,  clashes between the Manams and the Bogias have  resulted in deaths  and injuries.

As another decade approaches,  the Manams remain in care centers still without a permanent  solution.   Both the National and provincial government have not articulated  what will become of  them.

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