Papua New Guinea has some of the most active volcanoes in the South West Pacific, among them the Manam island volcano. In 2004 a major eruption forced the island's ten thousand residents to evacuate their homes and flee to the safety of camps, officially referred to as “care centres”, on the mainland. Over ten years later the population of these care centres has grown to over 15 thousand people. Living conditions are often basic and, over time, tensions have grown with local host communities. IDMC’s Regional Analyst for south-east Asia who recently visited the Manam care centres describes the failures of the government in assisting the displaced and explains what steps the national authorities could take to ensure the displaced finally achieve durable solutions.
In the initial months of the evacuation, in 2004, the Manam Islanders were provided with immediate relief and assistance from humanitarians and the government. This soon dried up however, and six months later there were reports of irregular and diminishing support as well as deteriorating conditions within the care centres.
In 2009, four years after the initial wave of displacement, with assistance having come to a near standstill, a UN inter-agency assessment warned that limited access to education, health care, water, food and shelter affected nearly all IDPs, and stripped them of their basic human rights.
10 years on, assistance remains stalled
While visiting the camps in October 2014 it was clear that very little had changed in the last decade. IDPs still lacked basic access to food and services, the land was infertile and in short supply for the growing displaced population. Some owned livestock and were able to fish but it was barely enough to survive. Most houses were in need of repair or reconstruction and relations with the locals were tense. In recent years clashes due to disputes over land and resources have caused thousands to be forcibly returned by the government to their home island despite the lack of arable land, the absence of government services and warnings from disaster authorities that it was not safe to return.
Obstacles to solutions unaddressed
In 2006, the central government acknowledged that since the possibility of return was almost impossible and there were many challenges to local integration, relocation to a new area was the only viable option. It identified 7,000 hectares of land in Andarum for the project, which is located further inland (around 50 km from Bogia). Land issues, lack of funds, corruption, poor leadership and an absence of political will have proved to be major stumbling blocks to making this happen. Finally in 2013, a preliminary agreement on land acquisition between the Madang provincial government and the landowners in Andarum was reached. During 2013, the government provided PGK3 million (US$1.7 million), with an additional PGK3 million planned for 2014. According to the relocation project manager, however, larger amounts are required for the project to even begin.
The lack of a legal foundation for the project is another problem. In 2013, a bill was introduced by Madang governor, also a Member of Parliament, to establish the “Manam Restoration Authority Act” but by November 2014 it had still not been adopted. Part of the delay has been attributed to the opposition of the Bogia representative in Parliament who believes the displaced should be returned to their island.
4 steps the government should take to end displacement in Manam
Ten years of empty promises and neglect now needs to come to an end. The government must find durable solutions for the Manam IDPs to ensure their basic needs are provided for and their rights as citizens of Papua New Guinea are respected.
The following steps are needed:
- National authorities should undertake a needs assessment of IDPs living in the three camps of Asuramba, Mangem and Potsdam to identify the main assistance and protection needs and ensure that these are addressed.
- In terms of the Andarum relocation project, political differences at the district and provincial level should be resolved and technical capacity increased at the coordination level to ensure the smooth and timely relocation of the displaced people of Manam.
- More efforts need to be made to ensure IDPs, including those who have been forced to return to the island since 2004, are properly informed and consulted on the planning of their relocation to the new Andarum site.
- Finally, the Manam Restoration Act needs to be fast-tracked and adequate resources should be allocated to the relocation project.
While the completion of the Andarum site for all 15,000 IDPs is likely to take many years, the government should consider starting a gradual relocation as soon as possible. Reducing the IDP population in the camps would alleviate the strain on land and resources. It would also restore trust between the displaced and the government and give them hope for a better future.