Home News What we know about landslides in Papua New Guinea

What we know about landslides in Papua New Guinea


Nearly five days later Landslides devastate a remote area in Papua New GuineaOfficials in the Pacific island nation have begun evacuating residents as the area remains unsafe.

“Rocks are still moving, mountains are still collapsing, and we are seeing rock and rubble piling up where it has already happened,” Sandis Tsaka, chief executive of Enga province, where the disaster occurred, said Tuesday evening. “The land is starting to collapse around it.”

Mr. Chaka said the conditions also prevented officials from mobilizing heavy equipment to clear the rubble and search for survivors. They also made it difficult to understand the true scale of the tragedy, with estimates of the death toll ranging from hundreds to thousands.

Here’s what we know so far:

The landslide struck the community near the village of Yambali around 3 a.m. Friday, with shipping container-sized boulders destroying buildings and burying at least 60 homes and at least one primary school.

Papua New Guinea is particularly vulnerable to natural disasters, and the landslides disrupted the main road into the region, making it more difficult to deliver aid.

Videos posted on social media showed residents using shovels and hand picks to search for survivors under huge rocks. A UN official estimated that the rubble was as high as 26 feet.

Estimates of the death toll vary widely. A United Nations agency put the death toll at around 670 on Sunday, but a day later local authorities said the death toll was as high as 2,000.

“While officials believe the death toll will be high, it is difficult to say how many deaths there actually are,” said Nicholas Booth, the UN Development Programme’s representative in Papua New Guinea.

As of Tuesday, only six bodies had been found, according to a U.N. statement.

In addition, Mr. Booth said, more than 150 buildings were damaged or buried.

The landslide occurred in a remote but densely populated area in Papua New Guinea’s highlands. Booth said the 2022 electoral roll estimated the area’s population at just under 4,000, but that did not include children or teenagers under 18.

He said tribal conflicts in the region had led to internal displacement of people, complicating the demographic effort.

Experts say tensions between tribes have been rising for years, with the scarcity of basic resources such as water and land fuelling conflict.

Access to the disaster site was blocked by tribal clashes on Saturday morning. According to the United Nations International Organization for Migration, eight people were killed and 30 houses were burned down in weekend clashes.

In February, More than 20 people died Inter-tribal gunfights broke out in Enga province. At the time, police said up to 17 tribes were involved in the violence. Last year, tribal clashes left more than 150 people dead and forced the provincial government to impose a three-month lockdown on the area.

The deadly landslides come at a tense political time for the country – which despite its rich natural resources remains underdeveloped. Prime Minister James Marape, who has been in power since 2019, is struggling to fend off an opposition attempt to table a no-confidence motion against his government in parliament.

Marape, who has pledged to transform the economy of Papua New Guinea, one of the world’s poorest countries, and win re-election in 2022, has sought to woo the United States and China, which are vying for influence in the Pacific.

But economic concerns remain. In January, a wage dispute between the government and hundreds of civil servants and police officers turned into a Deadly riotsExperts say youth unemployment is a major problem in Papua New Guinea, where nearly two-thirds of the population is under the age of 25.

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