Situation in Papua New Guinea 'catastrophic' following landslide, with 4,000 in need of aid

Situation in Papua New Guinea 'catastrophic' following landslide, with 4,000 in need of aid

Sunday 26/05/2024
More than 100 people are believed to have been killed in the landslide, which buried a village. (AP: Benjamin Sipa/International Organization for Migration)

A landslide has hit Kaokalam Village in Enga Province.

Around 60 houses – each believed to contain up to 15 people – were flattened when the side of a mountain gave way, locals report.

The debris from the landslide is up to eight metres deep and covers a large area including 150 metres of the main highway into the province.

CARE International PNG country director Justine McMahon told the ABC the scale of the disaster was catastrophic.

"We believe that there's at least 4,000 people directly affected," Ms McMahon said.

"But because those communities were actually hosting people who'd been displaced because of the tribal fights, it may well be much, much larger than 4,000 people."

In February, a massacre between warring clans saw around 50 people killed and many more forced to flee their homes.

Ms McMahon said their displacement amplified the impact of Friday's landslide.

"Those communities were hosting people displaced from other communities, so it really multiplies the number of people affected," she said.

"Just the scale of what's been lost, you know, the food gardens to houses or schools or health clinics. I think [the recovery] will take a really coordinated effort from many actors."

Ms McMahon said the Australian government had begun mobilising supplies from Port Moresby and Brisbane and had released funds to NGOs to assist with the disaster response.

"At this point [it] is likely to be food, water and hygiene," Ms McMahon said.

"[DFAT is] working with a whole range of partners, both in the recovery of the victims but also the repatriation of the survivors."

She said the UNDP would deploy drones and UNICEF would supply satellite imagery to help assess the damage tomorrow.

It's understood six bodies have been recovered from beneath rubble and wreckage, but many more remain buried – with heavy machinery required to excavate the area.

"The land is still quite unstable … which makes it difficult for the rescuers to go into those communities. They expect the number [of causalities] to rise quite significantly," Ms McMahon said.

An official death toll has not yet been reported, but locals estimate the number to be higher than 100.

The head of Caritas Wabag, Father Steven Yange, visited the village earlier today, bringing with him food and clothing.

He said people were still in shock, but had begun mourning the loss of loved ones.

"What they want to do is to get them out [from under] the landslide. They want the government, NGOs, agencies and the companies … to help them," Father Yange said.

"We were there to give them support and they were happy to take us."

Papua New Guinea's defence minister was in the nearby town of Wabag on Saturday, and was expected to visit the affected village.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese sent his condolences to those affected and, in a social media post, said Australia was ready to assist.

"All Australians grieve for our brothers and sisters in Papua New Guinea after the terrible landslide," he wrote on X.

US President Joe Biden also released a statement saying he was heartbroken by the loss of life and devastation caused by the landslide.

"Our prayers are with all the families impacted by this tragedy and all the first responders who are putting themselves in harm's way to help their fellow citizens," Mr Biden said.

He said the US government stood ready to assist with the response in PNG.

"The United States stands with Papua New Guinea — our close partner and friend — today and always," he said.

PNG Foreign Affairs Minister Justin Tkatchenko said in a statement he welcomed the support.

"We appreciate the US for its role as a world leader, in its support of others in the face of varied global challenges, but we appreciate even more its concern and commitment in our time of need - in our corner of the world," Mr Tkatchenko said.

By Marian Faa

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