Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies/University of Hawai‘i


Lifeline of PNG’s economy’ in danger of ‘being washed away’

By Johnny Poiya
PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Jan. 11, 2012) - The lifeline of Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) economy — the Highlands Highway — is only days away from being washed away by the flooding Wahgi River as the continuous rain causes havoc in the Highlands region.

The raging Wahgi is less than 10 metres away from the road in several places along the Wahgi Bruk section of the highway between Ganigle and Minj in the North Wahgi electorate in Jiwaka area.

The heavy wet weather has caused the Wahgi River and its tributaries to burst their banks, flooding food gardens and houses and causing massive erosion along its entire length of the fertile Wahgi Valley in recent weeks. The flooding has also forced many people living along the banks to evacuate to higher grounds with their livestock and properties. No attempt has yet been made by contractors or the Works Department for an alternate route due to the Wahgi threat, to cater for the massive daily traffic flowing up and down the highway. Though the stretch of land threatened by the flood waters that the highway is built on is flat, it is swampy, making it impossible for an alternative route to be built. But from past experiences on this section of the road, landowners still demand for up front compensation payment before an alternate road route is to be built on new ground, away from the main road.

While the Wahgi poses the major threat, reports received by the Post-Courier indicate that flooding along the entire length of the road — from Morobe to Hela and Southern Highlands — is continuing to disrupt normal flow of traffic, in some cases, holding up vehicles for hours for the roads to be fixed. In one such situation, on Sunday night, a flooding creek deposited a huge amount of mud, sand and other debries on the highway at Orange Market, Aviamp in the Anglimp South Wahgi electorate, forcing vehicles to detour to the newly sealed Kindeng-Kondopina-Banz road early Monday. Mount Hagen police Task Force members were still providing security for the flowing traffic late yesterday afternoon as locals watched the trucks, Public Motor Vehicles (PMVs) and other vehicles laboriously go through the potholes and debris. The highway has become a nightmare for trucking firms and motorists whose survival depend on it. The countless landslips, floods and poor conditions with lakes in the middle of the road is causing massive amounts of money loss in delays and damages to parts. Police manpower is being stretched to the limit as they scramble to provide security along the affected parts of the road –which is many. It has become a norm for locals to take advantage of the bad conditions by charging fees on every passing vehicle, or in worse cases, loot cargo.

Acting Highlands Divisional Police Commander Teddy Tei yesterday said people along the entire length of the highway were unnecessarily conducting road blocks where there were landslips or floods. "It has become a tradition now for people to take advantage of others affected in bad road conditionals along the highway. We got the Land Transport Acts passed by Parliament to be enacted soon and people should start walking away from such disgraceful acts," Chief Tei said.

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