In September, I went to the 70th anniversary celebrations of my old high school in Popondetta. I had not been back for 26 years. The place had drastically changed in many respects. Along the way on the Bishop’s 10-seater, we passed so many young men drunk on steam being pulled off the road by their friends.
The place had indeed changed.
When we arrived at the school, the crowd was bigger. More young men drunk at the school entrance. Some came from the village. Many others were students. It bothered me a lot. You don’t realize how big the problem is until you go outside of Lae City.
In Popondetta, the police have lost control. I bumped into a senior officer who was in the school yard while we were shooting pictures.
“We arrested two students,” he said. They arrested two and let the others roam wild and free.
Many Papua New Guineans see the alcohol crisis in isolation when we shouldn’t. Alcohol abuse is affecting everything around us yet we refuse to accept that we are experiencing a crisis that is destroying us as a country.
Every one of us knows a relative or a neighbor who beats up his wife every Friday. ‘He came home drunk.’ The verbal abuse, the rapes, the public harassment… Nearly every major accident is caused by someone under the influence. You can go to the accidents and emergency section of any major hospital and ask the emergency physician and they will show you the stats.
Last year, Dr. Alex Peawi, who heads the A & E section at Angau Hospital told me that eight out of every 10 cases brought in to the hospital after 10pm is alcohol related. These are women beaten by their partners, youths stabbed during a fight in a block and so many other cases. I bet you a hundred bucks, the stats have not changed.
In 2012, when I returned to Lae, clashes between ethnic groups were very common. Root cause? Some drunk idiot harasses members of the community, he gets beaten up them mobilizes his wantoks. Boom! Ethnic clash! People displaced.
Police are sick of it. They’ve seen enough of it.
In Lae, acts of being drunk and disorderly have become largely subdued. The police are able to pounce quickly and remove the culprits before they cause harm to the community.
With Lae’s police toll free number, citizens feeling threatened can call in anonymously, provide details and the drunk is removed quickly. Again, almost always, clashes involving different ethnic groups start from a single drunk or a group of them. Police have since been nipping the problem in the bud.
I see relative success in Lae City. But I see a steady decline in other smaller centers.
The police systems are weak and the community is afraid to take ownership of the problem simply because they don’t have back up from the law.
I say again that it is a CRISIS in every sense of the word. It’s not just the ‘drug bodies’ who are part of the crisis. Every week, someone in Papua New Guinea is disciplined and sacked for abusing the company vehicle while drunk. It’s become a common excuse.
“Sorry, em no mekim wok hariap…em kisim wara liklik lo nait na em silip.”
“Em spak na bamim kar.”
Every day, some drunk cop physically abuses a member of the public. Kids finishing off their grade 8 exams feel they need to ‘celebrate’ because everyone is doing it. I think we’ve gone wrong somewhere.
It’s a crisis that needs an acknowledgement by us as a people. We have to admit that we have a problem and get help.