While the world has been on lockdown, in remote Enga Province, in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, work has been able to continue on a major upgrade of Wapenamanda Airport.
The K38million project under the National Airport Corporation’s rehabilitation program of the nation’s airports, includes an upgrade of the 1.6km runway, a 32metre extension to the width and a new terminal building.
Speaking on a visit to the project site this week, Enga Governor Sir Peter Ipatas emphasized that the airport will be much needed in the not distant future.
"If the pandemic is over soon then we have big events that are lined up to take place in our province in the later part of the year. We will have the Enga Cultural Show in August, the National Tourism Expo in September and other events and this airport will be of importance to the people and the economy of the province," said Sir Peter
The runway extension and rehabilitation works are on track to be completed in May and will open for business right away, while construction continues on the new terminal building.
It’s welcome news for the Enga Cultural Show Committee, who are still planning and preparing to stage the annual event in August.
Committee Chairlady Margaret Potane said, “The Enga Cultural Show is the largest annual gathering in the province and has been of cultural significance to Engan people for 25 years.”
“Our show is the people’s show and with or without outside visitors, the people still want to gather together to celebrate their culture.”, she added.
Mrs Potane said, “We will listen to the directions of the Government on this and we will take the advice of our Health Professionals, but right now we are going ahead with our planning as normal and will re-assess in June when the nationwide state of emergency has ended.”
Enga’s remote isolation has so far protected it from the Covid-19 pandemic. The province has no recorded cases of the virus.
As the last stop on the Highlands Highway and with the airport shutdown since last November, movement of people from outside was more limited than usual in the lead up to the pandemic.
The giant Pogera Mine in the far west, immediately banned all overseas workers from flying in, in early March when PNG’s first case of Covid-19 was confirmed and the population here has been relatively compliant with lockdown, stay at home and social distancing measures.
Since the announcement by the PNG Government of a 14 day nationwide shut down in March, Enga’s Governor has put in an astonishing amount of mileage travelling by road across the province, to personally address communities and kick start what will be an on-going awareness campaign.
Dr Betty Koka, Director of Public Health with the Enga Provincial Health Authority, who will be rolling out the awareness program said, “Enga also has the advantage of being the only province in PNG that speaks the one language, making the communication of health messages travel much further, faster in a country where word of mouth is still the main way to spread awareness messages.”
To reduce the level of people movement across its borders, the Enga Provincial Government has banned all garden produce that is not grown inside the province and has backed it up with K1 million agriculture stimulus package for encourage the local population to grow more food.
With 80% of the population still connected to their traditional way of living, largely subsistence farming, combined with Enga’s continued efforts to preserve its unbroken cultural knowledge, the people out here in one of the most remote corners of Earth could have a unique buffer to the kind of economic fallout and hardship that we see hurting families and societies across the globe.