Papua New Guinea (PNG) is the largest Pacific Island country in Oceania. The country of 9.3 million people (2022 est.) is made up of the eastern half of the island of New Guinea, alongside four additional islands, and over 600 islets and atolls. PNG is located in the so-called “Pacific Ring of Fire,” a region where many volcanic eruptions and earthquakes occur. PNG faces natural hazards including earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, cyclones, flooding, landslides, and droughts.
PNG is among a grouping of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) that are particularly vulnerable to the effects of marine climate change. Sea level rise is a pronounced risk for PNG, which faces annual sea level rise above the global average. The experience of the people of PNG’s Carteret Islands is the bestknown example of climate change-induced displacement, with islanders having lost 50% of their land due to sea level rise since 1994. More recently, king tides affected three provinces of PNG in late December 2021; they submerged schools, homes, gardens, water catchments, and cemeteries, and required a national emergency response.10 The impact of climate change in PNG will be significant given that over 85% of the population lives in rural areas and relies primarily on subsistence agriculture for survival.
PNG’s population also mostly live in rugged mountainous terrain with limited access to basic infrastructure such as roads and bridges, which has hindered access to health care, education, and broader economic opportunities. These challenges will become more pronounced with climate change-induced natural disasters.
PNG’s disaster management framework is set out in the Disaster Management Act (DM Act) 1984 (revised 1987). The DM Act is widely characterized as in need of reform and is currently under review. At the national level, the National Disaster Committee and its executive National Disaster Centre (NDC) is the lead government agency for disaster response pursuant to the DM Act. However, in practice the Government of Papua New Guinea (GoPNG) appoints an Emergency Controller to lead disaster response efforts under the emergency powers provisions of the Constitution. During a disaster, an emergency controller and the NDC may both be coordinating response efforts.
Additionally, PNG’s Defence Force (PNGDF) plays a role in responding to civil disaster also pursuant to the Constitutional emergency powers provisions. The NDC was transferred, along with the PNG Fire Service and the National Volunteer Service to the portfolio of the Minister of Defence in or around 2020. The NDC is currently in the process of being elevated from an office to an independent authority, which will give it a greater role and resources under the defense portfolio. At the provincial level, each province has at least a provincial disaster coordinator or an established provincial disaster center (PDC).
At the district and local-level government (LLG) levels, if there is a mechanism dedicated to Disaster Risk Management (DRM) and disaster response it is likely a single person who is also charged with other administrative responsibilities. Moreover, the United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator in PNG and the NDC Director co-chair a Disaster Management Team (DMT).
The DMT is a strategic body responsible for coordinating international humanitarian support to national disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. The DMT oversees the InterCluster Coordination Group comprising cluster coordinators who work with the GoPNG, nongovernment organizations (NGO), and faithbased and private-sector partners to deliver specific assistance in support of the nationallyled response. Furthermore, the GoPNG has developed a whole-of-government approach to supporting disaster risk reduction (DRR) through the National Disaster Risk Reduction Framework (NDRRF) 2017-2030.