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Remoteness hinders relief efforts after 2000 feared dead in Papua New Guinea landslide

29 May 2024

World Vision

Families walk over the site of the landslide

Families walk over the site of the landslide

AS MANY as 2000 people are feared to have died after a sudden landslide engulfed six villages in a remote area of Papua New Guinea in the early hours of last Friday morning, causing “immense devastation”.

There are now fears of a second landslide, and areas near by are being evacuated. Fallen rocks have made it difficult for relief teams to gain access to the region. Government officials suggest that it is unlikely that any survivors will be found.

One village, Tulipari, is reported to be completely destroyed. Because of its remoteness and limited communications, the “true scale of the disaster remains unclear”, the charity World Vision has said. It has a team in the area.

The landslide was caused when part of a limestone mountain sheared away in the middle of the night after heavy rainfall in the region. Early reports suggest that at least 150 homes and other buildings, such as schools, were swept away. The UN initially estimated 670 deaths, but government officials have since put the toll much higher, at 2000.

The national director of World Vision Papua New Guinea, Chris Jensen, said on Wednesday: “The scale of devastation is immense, and the population is in a state of profound shock and grief. Our teams are deeply moved by the resilience and strength of affected communities. We are in dire need of an urgent humanitarian response.

“Children and families are being forced to live in open areas with inadequate shelter. The risks they face from cold temperatures and unsanitary conditions are deeply concerning.”

The Roman Catholic aid agency Caritas Australia has also sent a humanitarian team to the area to support people who have lost their homes because of the landslide. Clean water, food, and shelter are urgent priorities, it said.

Pope Francis is among the church leaders to have sent a message of condolence and prayers. The country is home to about ten million people, about one quarter of whom are Roman Catholic. The Pope is due to visit Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and Singapore in September.

The King and Queen also sent a message of support after “an appallingly traumatic event”. The Bishop of Norwich posted on X that he had spoken by video call to two Bishops from the Anglican Church in Papua New Guinea: Bishop Nathan Ingen, and Bishop Lesley lhove, “to assure them of my prayers” and those of the diocese of Norwich. The diocese has a longstanding link with the Anglican Church in Papua New Guinea.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) said that the population in the remote area was predominantly young, and “authorities fear that many of the fatalities will be children under 15”. The WCC general secretary, the Revd Professor Jerry Pillay, said this week: “We pray for the people in urgent need, for those who have lost loved ones, and for those who face a long recovery from this terrible disaster. You are not forgotten. You are children of God who are being held in prayer by your global ecumenical family.”

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