Papua New Guinea floods, landslides leave at least 23 dead

Mountain and coastal provinces have been flooded, with one coastal village considering relocating due to rising sea levels.

At least 23 people have been killed as torrential rain and king tides wash away roads, homes and food gardens in Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) highland and coastal regions.

The dead, including a mother and her child, died in landslides in the highlands province of Chimbu, Lusete Man, the acting director for the National Disaster Centre, told the AFP news agency.

“The 23 were buried under tons of mud in three separate landslides,” Man said on Monday.

“We are still experiencing heavy rains, landslips, flooded rivers, that have caused extensive damages in the highlands.”

Coastal communities in the Gulf province south of Chimbu were also inundated.

King tides flooded the coastal village of Lese Kavora, causing “extensive damage to food gardens and contaminating fresh water sources”, PNG’s public broadcaster, the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), reported on Wednesday.

Community members have since discussed potential options for relocating the village, NBC added, “as this is not the first time the village has been pooled under king tides due to climate change, causing the rise in sea level”.

Heavy flooding also spread to the highlands province of Enga, with the community leader of Wapenamanda, Aquila Kunzie, telling RNZ Pacific the community was rationing its food supply.

“Constant continuous rainfall in Wapenamanda district has caused rivers to flood,” Kunzie said.

He added that more than 100 women and children had taken refuge in his village following nearby tribal warfare.

“[We are eating] only one meal per day, we can’t afford breakfast and lunch with all of them,” he said.

“We have no way to call out for help.”

Papua New Guinea is ranked as the world’s 16th most at-risk country to climate change and natural hazards, according to the 2022 World Risk Index.

Its mountainous highlands are home to the third largest rainforest on earth, after The Amazon and the Congo Basin rainforest.

But logging from palm oil plantations and foreign timbre companies has seen large areas of the rainforest cleared.

PNG is the world’s fifth-largest exporter of palm oil with most of its exports going to India, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Malaysia in 2022.

Clearing rainforests contributes to climate change but also causes local environmental degradation that can make floods and landslides worse.

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