HF radio throws a lifeline to islanders ahead of PNG’s new restrictions

Published: 21 Mar 2021

Wuvulu Island is 140 miles north of PNG’s mainland. It takes approx 7 hours to reach the island by boat.

As Covid cases skyrocket in Papua New Guinea, never before has communication been more vital for remote islanders. MAF Technologies PNG was able to install High Frequency radio for the first time on Wuvulu Island just before PNG’s Prime Minister announced his latest ‘national isolation strategy’. MAF’s Joy Suarkia reports…

‘Remain in your province, remain in your district, in your village and where you are.’ PNG’s Prime Minister, James Marape

These are the words of Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister, James Marape, said in a bid to control soaring coronavirus cases, which have now exceeded 5,000 and are crippling the country’s health system (sources: Business Advantage PNG and the Guardian).   

With gatherings banned and travelling severely restricted in PNG apart from exceptional circumstances, MAF’s timely High Frequency (HF) radio installations have come into their own. Connecting people and communities through technology during a time of forced separation caused by the pandemic has become a lifeline.  

Wuvulu Island – the tiny black dot in the distance, 140 miles off the north coast of PNG

A beautiful island in the middle of nowhere

Even at the best of times, many of PNG’s island communities do not have access to adequate mobile phone coverage or the internet.

The small and beautiful island of Wuvulu is 140 miles north of Wewake on PNG’s mainland. The island is isolated and encircled by a coral reef with no natural harbour, making it impossible to anchor ships there.

Wuvulu’s mode of transport to Wewake is either by small aircraft or by speedboat. Flying takes around 50 minutes or around seven hours by speedboat.

A myriad of challenges

Before their HF radio installation, Wuvulu’s contact with the mainland was made by constant travel back and forth, which increased the risk of coronavirus infection.

Given Wuvulu’s proximity to the mainland, ongoing challenges also include lack of access to essential healthcare and government services. Unlimited travel also becomes expensive.

Having no reliable form of communication with Wewak, Vanimo and Manus on the mainland means that Wuvulu is unable to receive regular weather warnings leaving their people vulnerable to cyclones and other bad travel conditions.

Clear comms across the airwaves will also help them to report emergencies at sea faster - saving time saves lives! Plus, good information will help them to avoid sea piracy.

MAF has been providing medevacs for this remote community for several years but facilitating them without decent communication makes the job more difficult.

Wuvulu Island gets HF radio for the first time

Wuvulu’s islanders help MAF Technologies PNG engineer, Gollinson Wena, set up the island’s first ever HF radio mast

MAF Technologies PNG engineer, Gollinson Wena, who installed the HF radio on Wuvulu Island, explains the difference such technology can make to a community:

‘They now feel a sense of safety and protection whenever travelling out at sea.’

 

Despite the distance and restrictions around coronavirus, schools and churches in Wuvulu can now use the radio to stay connected to schools and churches on the mainland, empowering them to grow their faith and expand their education.

Radio has made it safer and more convenient for Wuvulu communities to keep in touch with their families and others further afield from the safety of their own island. Constant travel back and forth to the mainland is no longer necessary.

 

A typical HF radio set up in a remote PNG setting

For these remote PNG islanders, HF radio is an emergency communication tool that saves lives and connects the isolated. Without HF capability, people living in and travelling around these remote places are exposing themselves to danger, especially if they find themselves in trouble with no means of contacting anyone for help.