Another Manam? The forced migration of the population of Manam Island, Papua New Guinea, due to volcanic eruptions 2004–2005

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Executive Summary

Manam islanders were displaced from the island of Manam, off the north coast of Madang Province in Papua New Guinea, early in 2005 after extensive volcanic activity. About 9,000 people were evacuated, eventually to three principal “care centres”, former plantations, extending over 100 km along the north coast of Madang Province. Most of the displaced islanders have remained in these care centres for a decade. No emergency preparedness plans were in place for evacuation or resettlement. That has posed economic and social problems for them and created tensions with local landowners. Relocation on narrow strips of coastal land created conflicts with local people over the use of such resources as land for gardens, water, materials to build houses and access to marine resources, circumstances that challenged attempts to maintain food security. Access to land posed immediate problems for Manam islanders and has delayed attempts to achieve a durable solution. Past solutions to evacuation, through extended regional social ties and exchange relations, have become less feasible. As populations in the care centres have grown, the quality of life there, where most islanders still reside, has deteriorated.

Over time, resettlement has become a difficult and complex political issue. The Madang Provincial Government has developed a plan for a new permanent resettlement site for the islanders at Andarum, some 30 km inland, but that will not be accessible for several years, and finance for its development has not currently been provided. A number of islanders have returned to Manam, especially to the northern village of Baliau, partly because of a residential preference but also because of tensions and violence with mainlanders. An effective largely subsistence lifestyle has been restored.

The national government regards Manam as unsafe and is unwilling to provide services and support for those who have returned. Nonetheless, a greater “return to Manam” may be a valuable option. Provision of basic services there is a priority. Over time, and given these circumstances, multiple destinations may represent the most economic, environmentally viable and culturally appropriate option, to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse and geographically dispersed Manam population. Uncertainty, lack of political will and the absence of a government policy on internally displaced persons have hindered attempts to provide definitive and durable solutions. As is also evident elsewhere, resettlement in situations of volcanicity is unusually difficult, but Manam poses particularly complicated land and logistical problems.

Involvement of the displaced persons and traditional leaders is crucial to the success of any planning and resettlement process. The Madang Provincial Government should urgently facilitate both Manam communities themselves participating fully in finding their own community- driven durable solution and rehabilitating essential services in the care centres and on Manam.

Table of contents:

  • Acknowledgements
  • Executive summary

    • 1. Introduction
    • 2. Early resettlement: The past as precedent?
    • 3. Resettlement in care centres 
    • 4. Andarum: A new Manam?
    • 5. Back to Baliau: A Manam alternative?
    • 6. A diverse outcome?
    • 7. Conclusion
    • 8. Recommendations 
  • Bibliography

  • Appendix: Key informants