Extraordinary weather causing disasters, PNG PM says

Renju Jose and Kirsty Needham |

The debris from a landslide in Papua New Guinea has reached up to eight metres high.
The debris from a landslide in Papua New Guinea has reached up to eight metres high.

Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape has blamed “extraordinary rainfall” and changes to weather patterns for multiple disasters in the Pacific Island nation, including a landslide that might have killed thousands.

Parts of a mountain in the Maip-Mulitaka area in Enga province in PNG’s north collapsed in the early hours of Friday and Marape said more than 2000 people were estimated to have died, with up to 70,000 people living in the area affected by the disaster.

“Our people in that village went to sleep for the last time, not knowing they would breathe their last breath as they were sleeping peacefully,” Marape told parliament on Wednesday. 

“Nature threw a disastrous landslip, submerged or covered the village.”

Natural disasters had cost the country more than 500 million kina ($A193 million) in 2024, before the landslide at Enga, he said.

“This year, we had extraordinary rainfall that has caused flooding in river areas, sea level rise in coastal areas and landslips in a few areas,” Marape said.

After a deadly landslide in the province of Enga, Papua New Guinea
Authorities are warning of more landslides amid further earth slips in the mountain. (HANDOUT/INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR MIGRATION (IOM))

“We have faced extraordinary weather patterns and changes from dryness to wetness.”

Deputy Prime Minister John Rosso said: “The climate change effects that are here now is not just in Enga, for the last two months we have seen unprecedented disasters throughout the country.”

Defence Minister Billy Joseph arrived in Enga on Wednesday with relief supplies including food, water, blankets and tents provided by Australia on two Australian military aircraft.

Australia’s High Commissioner John Feakes said in Enga more plane loads, with supplies and Australian rescue personnel and technical teams would arrive in coming days, the PNG Post-Courier reported.

The United States had pledged two million kina for emergency shelter and logistics support, its embassy said.

Authorities have raised concerns about the outbreak of diseases amid warnings of further landslides.

Thousands of people have been ordered to leave.

Rescue teams have been slow to reach the site because of the treacherous terrain and tribal unrest in the remote area, forcing the military to escort convoys of relief teams.

The arrival of heavy machinery from the PNG Defence Force has been delayed by damage to a bridge along the route.

The UN said repairs should be finished by Thursday, when five to 10 machines hired locally would also arrive on site.

The landslide has also cut off access to the Porgera gold mine, operated by Barrick Gold through Barrick Niugini Ltd, its joint venture with China’s Zijin Mining. 

The miner said its operations were not affected.

Marape said the government was working with Barrick to reopen the road. 

Barrick said it had offered the government more heavy equipment at the slip site.

The UN migration agency has warned of an outbreak of infectious diseases if immediate steps are not taken.

“Every passing minute, bodies buried under the debris are decaying, with water squeezed between the ground and the vast debris covering an area of three to four football fields is continuing to leak, this is posing a high health risk,” Serhan Aktoprak, the head of the agency’s PNG mission said in an emailed statement. 

Reuters