Sunday, June 23, 2024
Sunday June 23, 2024
Sunday June 23, 2024

Bodies recovered from PNG landslide as villagers use bare hands in desperate search



Papua New Guinea government issues international plea for aid amid fears of rising death toll

Residents of a remote village in Papua New Guinea’s Enga Province are frantically digging through rubble with shovels and their bare hands to recover bodies buried by a devastating landslide. The disaster struck on Friday, swallowing dozens of homes and causing widespread devastation.

As of Sunday, only five bodies and partial remains of a sixth victim had been recovered. The United Nations estimates that around 675 people may have been killed, while PNG’s disaster agency fears that more than 2,000 people could be buried under the rubble. However, these figures have not been independently verified, and local sources caution that it is too early to determine a definitive death toll.

Footage filmed by Father Steven Yange, a local priest, shows villagers in the remote Highlands region using rudimentary tools to dig through the debris. “There is a family in there. They are [trying to] move the bodies,” Father Yange told the ABC. Despite the presence of UN agencies, the Papua New Guinea Defence Force, and a few aid organizations, Father Yange emphasized that more assistance is urgently needed.

“We need medicine, we need these things that can be used to dig up the bodies,” he said. Families who survived the landslide but lost their homes are in dire need of help, especially as rain continues to fall, exacerbating the situation. “We need the government and NGOs to help them with food, bedding, clothes, and if possible if they can provide them with tents,” he added.

ANU’s Facilities & Services Division director Jeremy Matthew issued the vacate order on Monday morning, citing a “disruptive fire evacuation” on May 21 that raised “serious safety concerns affecting the good order on campus and in that zone.” The university emphasized that it retains the authority to maintain order on campus and the necessity to remove all tents and encampment structures.

Local lawyer Andrew Ruing also shared videos showing men trying to dig through the debris with basic instruments. “As we speak, 300 plus lives are buried there. The boys are struggling,” he said. “They are not using bulldozers or anything… they are trying to remove big rocks with sticks. Therefore we are asking anybody who can help… we really need assistance.”

The remote terrain has complicated relief efforts, with ongoing terrain movement and damaged access roads slowing the response. The United Nations office in PNG acknowledged these challenges in a statement, emphasizing the need for coordinated efforts to clear debris and improve access to the site.

“The UN continues to assist government authorities with the coordination of response efforts,” the statement read. “Necessary relief supplies including emergency shelter, food, and water are being prepared for transport and distribution. This follows a limited, preliminary distribution of such items over the last 24 hours.”

UNDP Resident Representative Nicholas Booth confirmed that police and defence forces are on site, with additional support from provincial government representatives, UN agencies, and World Vision. “In addition to police and defence forces on site, provincial government [representatives] are on their way together with UN and World Vision to deliver supplies to the communities on-site,” he said.

Serhan Aktoprak, the chief of mission at the International Organization for Migration PNG, highlighted cultural sensitivities complicating the recovery efforts. “Frankly speaking, we don’t know how this is going to work,” he said. “Because there are also cultural sensitivities that we have been informed of in that the communities while mourning and grieving, may not wish any heavy machinery to get involved as they are trying to recover the corpses to maintain their integrity as much as possible. [But] we have no intention to give up until the community requests us to stop.”

The PNG government has issued an open request to international partners for help in responding to the landslide. Several countries are now discussing the best way to coordinate their response. Australia’s Defence Minister Richard Marles confirmed that Australia is poised to offer more help. “We supported some of the first officials going to the site and we have made clear to the PNG government what support we could provide,” Marles told ABC’s RN Breakfast.

The threat of further landslides looms as rain continues to fall in the region. Father Yange’s footage captures the unsettling sounds of rocks shifting, and he expressed concerns about additional sections of the mountain collapsing. “Tomorrow we don’t know what will be happening but landslides are still continuing,” he said. “The mountains are likely to be coming down and that could destroy three or four more communities.”


The landslide in Papua New Guinea’s Enga Province exposes the vulnerabilities of remote communities to natural disasters and highlights the urgent need for coordinated humanitarian assistance. The tragedy, which has potentially claimed thousands of lives, underscores several critical issues.

Politically, the disaster comes at a challenging time for Prime Minister James Marape, who faces a vote of no confidence. This political instability may complicate the government’s response efforts and its ability to coordinate effectively with international partners. The Prime Minister’s focus on maintaining political stability while managing a national disaster presents significant governance challenges.

Sociologically, the landslide reveals the harsh realities faced by rural communities in disaster-prone areas. The use of rudimentary tools by villagers to dig out bodies highlights the lack of resources and infrastructure in these regions. The immediate need for food, shelter, and medical supplies points to systemic issues in disaster preparedness and response.

Economically, the impact of the landslide on the local community will be profound. The destruction of homes and infrastructure will require significant investment in rebuilding efforts. The reliance on local contractors and mining companies for assistance, contingent on government assurances of payment, indicates the financial constraints and logistical challenges in mounting an effective response.

Culturally, the sensitivity surrounding the recovery of bodies emphasizes the importance of respecting local traditions and practices. The reluctance to use heavy machinery to maintain the integrity of the deceased highlights the need for culturally informed approaches in humanitarian efforts. Balancing the urgency of recovery with cultural sensitivities will be crucial in maintaining community trust and cooperation.

The theoretical perspectives relevant to this disaster include disaster response and management theories, which stress the importance of coordinated, multi-agency efforts in addressing large-scale emergencies. The involvement of UN agencies, the PNG Defence Force, and international partners reflects a collaborative approach, albeit challenged by logistical and political obstacles.

In conclusion, the landslide in Papua New Guinea’s Enga Province is a stark reminder of the need for robust disaster preparedness and response mechanisms. The immediate and coordinated support from both national and international actors is essential to mitigate the impact of this tragedy and aid in the recovery process. The political, social, economic, and cultural dimensions of the disaster must be navigated carefully to ensure effective and respectful aid delivery.


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