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India announces $1 million immediate relief assistance to landslide-hit Papua New Guinea

A devastating landslide struck a remote village in Papua New Guinea's Enga province last week, killing over 670 people and burying 2,000 people. Earlier today, PM Modi expressed deep condolences over the death and destruction caused by the landslide and promised all assistance to the island nation.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee New Delhi Updated on: May 28, 2024 13:27 IST
Papua New Guinea landslide
Image Source : REUTERS People clear an area at the site of a landslide in Papua New Guinea, which killed hundreds

New Delhi: India on Tuesday announced an immediate relief assistance package to Papua New Guinea, after a devastating landslide killed 650 people and buried more than 2,000 people in the South Pacific island nation. This came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed deep condolences and conveyed India's readiness to extend all support after the massive landslide in Papua New Guinea's Enga province.

More than 2,000 people were buried alive by a massive landslide in Papua New Guinea last week, the national disaster centre said on Monday, as treacherous terrain and the difficulty of getting aid to the site raises the risk few survivors will be found. The numbers of those buried around Yambali village in Enga province in the country's north are based on estimates from local authorities which have been rising steadily since Friday's landslide.

"Deeply saddened by the loss of lives and damage caused by the devastating landslide in Papua New Guinea. Our heartfelt condolences to the affected families and prayers for speedy recovery of the injured. India is ready to offer all possible support and assistance," wrote PM Modi on X.

Announcing the aid package, the Ministry of External Affairs said, "As a close friend and partner under the Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) and as a gesture of solidarity with the friendly people of Papua New Guinea, Government of India extends an immediate relief assistance of $1 million to support relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts."

​India has firmly stood by Papua New Guinea during times of difficulty and devastation caused by natural disasters, as in the wake of the earthquake in 2018 and volcanic eruptions in 2019 and 2023, the Ministry noted, highlighting PM Modi's commitment to Disaster Risk Reduction and Management, an important pillar of India's Indo-Pacific Oceans’ Initiative (IPOI).

What is happening in Papua New Guinea?

The National Disaster Centre gave the new number in a letter to the UN, which had put possible deaths at more than 670. However, the variance reflects the remote site and the difficulty in getting an accurate population estimate. Defence Minister Billy Joseph said 4,000 people had been living in the six remote villages in the Maip-Mulitaka area in Enga province, where the landslide occurred on Friday.

More than 72 hours after the landslide, residents were still using spades, sticks and bare hands to try and shift debris. Only five bodies had been found, according to the provincial authority. More than 150 houses were buried beneath debris almost two storeys high. Thousands of people have been ordered to evacuate the vulnerable region as relief teams managed to trickle in after enduring difficulty in accessing the northern Enga region.

The odds of finding survivors have been deemed slim by officials. "The landslide area is very unstable. When we're up there, we're regularly hearing big explosions where the mountain is, there is still rocks and debris coming down," Enga province disaster committee chairperson Sandis Tsaka told Reuters.

A state of emergency has been declared across the disaster zone and a neighbouring area, with a combined population of between 4,500 to 8,000, although not all have been ordered to evacuate yet, Tsaka said. Military personnel have set up checkpoints and are helping move residents to evacuation centres, he said.

The unstable terrain, remote location and nearby tribal warfare are hampering relief efforts in Papua New Guinea. Emergency crews, led by Papua New Guinea's defence personnel, were on the ground, but the first excavator only reached the site late on Sunday, according to a UN official. 

Water continued to flow under the debris, the UN migration agency said, making it extremely dangerous for residents and the rescue team to clear debris. Serhan Aktoprak, the chief of the UN migration agency's mission in PNG, told ABC television that emergency crews would continue to look for survivors until the residents asked them to stop.

Social media footage posted by villagers and local media teams showed people scaling rocks, digging with shovels, sticks and their bare hands to find survivors. Women could be heard weeping in the background. Six bodies have been retrieved so far. The UN said the number of possible deaths could change as rescue efforts were expected to continue for days.

(with inputs from agencies)

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