|Cities At Risk - Making Cities Safer ... Before Disaster Strikes (IDNDR-DIRDN, 1996)|
|Part Two: What Is Being Done?|
What are acceptable levels in living with risk, and what are the tradeoffs? These questions drive the rehabilitation programme that municipal authorities are carrying out in Rabaul, Papua New Guinea. Struck by a major volcanic eruption in September 1994, this port city has opted for partial relocation and safer construction to guard against future disasters.
Two volcanoes, Vulcan and Tavurvur, destroyed Rabaul and damaged many settlements on the Gazelle peninsula. The eruption showed how far-reaching the economic impacts of a disaster can be. Rabaul, one of the largest commercial centres in Papua New Guinea, was the administrative centre of the province. Most of the agricultural produce of the island provinces was exported through Rabaul's port, and the city served as a centre of light industry.
Although only four people died, 100,000 people were affected. The greatest damage was caused by the rain of ash and mud, in some places up to 50 centimeters thick. Most inhabitants lost everything: homes, personal belongings, and their source of income. Most buildings in Rabaul collapsed under the weight of wet ash, and ash rains destroyed many homes and plantations on the rest of the peninsula. Electricity, water supply, phone cables, roads, government offices, schools, clinics and the hospital were destroyed.
The total direct losses are estimated to be 5% of GNP, the equivalent of two years of national public spending for health. The cost to rebuild infrastructure is estimated at $70 million. Insured losses were $50 million; private, uninsured losses are estimated to be double that amount. No figures are available for indirect losses from industry, trade, or agricultural exports.
The government's rehabilitation programme tries to balance the advantages of Rabaul's location with the risk of another volcanic eruption. The government has made land available to disaster victims at a safe distance from the volcanoes. Most housing areas and the administrative centre are being rebuilt in Kokopo, a village 20 km from Rabaul and 15 km from the nearest active volcano. The Kokopo airport has been upgraded to replace that of Rabaul.
Under the smoke of the still-active Tavurvur volcano, however, the harbour of Rabaul has reopened. There is no good alternative location for the port of Rabaul, a sheltered deep-sea harbour; it provides a key service for regional economic development. Meanwhile, it will take some time before the plantations of the Gazelle peninsula will be operational again.
Adapted from "Rabaul, Papua New Guinea: the volcanic eruption of 1994 and its aftermath" by Anja Smid, free-lance journalist, June 1996.
Adapted from a cartoon by Laurence Clark in The New Zealand Herald, 21/Sept/94.