Wednesday, September 24, 2014

AVENGU- ANOTHER PARADISE FORGOTTEN

Avengu village, picturesque and remote. 
Avengu village sits ridge nestled amongst the giants of the Sarawaged. The people are  cut off from their district  headquarters   in Gagidu.  There is no road access.   The  nearest government station is in Pindiu  is a two day walk from Avengu.     The people  grow coffee  and little else in terms of cash crops.

 The coffee trees are tall.  They   have not been pruned for a long while.   But when  harvest time comes,    up to 20 people each carrying  50 kilogram bags  make the two day journey to Pindiu  to sell the coffee.
Theo Zurenuoc - Service delivery eats up 70 percent of our budget
A two day walk to Pindiu
“When we start walking at six in the morning, we arrive  in Pindiu at six in the afternoon the next day.”   The people have accepted that roads won’t be built in the next two years and that construction  equipment  won’t arrive even in the next four.   This is one place where the cost of service delivery  eats up about 70 percent of the district’s development budget.

 “If we have a million kina to spend, K700,000 will be spent on transportation and other costs and we’d be left with just K300,000 for actual services,” says  Finchafen MP, Theo Zurenuoc.

 Zurenuoc walked the rugged mountains where the villages are located.  He is one of  a new breed of PNG politicians  who have tried to stay connected to their place of origin.      In one of his many  trips during the wet season, the people reported  up to five deaths. All of them were  failed  rescues or  failed attempts to cross flooded rivers.

The Avengu people now have a foot bridge.  This is where government funding is being channeled.   But to build the bridge ,  the people  made a five hour trek,  through thick jungle,   to carry  the metal parts from   Lembati airstrip, in the neighboring village,    to the site.   The bridge cost  30 thousand kina.  But the cost of  service delivery added up to  nearly K70,000.  It’s the same  in most mountainous districts all over Papau New Guinea.   As in many other rural locations,  there is an ever present  plague of  high infant and maternal deaths.

 Lisa Ivil,   a primary school teacher has seen  women  and children die every year.   “Every year,   we see five deaths,” she tells me.

“It’s alarming. But what can we do?”

Speaking at a public gathering in the presence of her  parliamentary representative, Theo Zurenuoc,  she  raised concerns over the cost of delivering services.     Her salary of K500 a fortnight  can’t cater for transportation costs for her family. A plane ticket costs K300 per passenger. She has no choice but to spend nearly half a week walking to the coast with her  young family.    

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