The PNG Earthquakes of 2018 Peter D. Dwyer and Monica Minnegal

The epicentre of the massive earthquake of 26 February 2018 was near the highland town of Komo, in the Karius Range and about 10 km south of the conditioning plant of the PNG Liquefied Natural Gas project. There was huge damage to airstrips, roads and bridges. Landslides spilled from the mountains, burying gardens and transforming watercourses. More than140 people were killed and thousands were displaced.

Two articles provide details, one by Michael Main, the other by us. Links are provided below.

Landslides on the Karius Range March 2018 photo Sally Lloyd

In the first article, Michael discusses responses of the tens of thousands of Huli people who host the PNG LNG project and are frustrated by the failure of government to pay them promised royalties. He writes of mythological beliefs related to earthquakes and of current concerns that extracting gas from their land was the cause of the earthquake. ‘Earthquakes’, he writes, ‘are now attributed to a single cause that has come to dominate the Huli landscape both physically and cosmologically’. There is clear potential for this to spill over as violence. Indeed, since the earthquake, near the landslide-stricken Tagari River, some landowners have burned ExxonMobil equipment and buildings.

Edolo landscape on southern slopes of Mount Sisa before and after the earthquake of 26 February 2018

To the southwest of the Huli town of Komo it is a 20 kilometre walk across steep, forest-clad mountains to reach 3000 Edolo people who lived in about 20 scattered villages. Our article describes the landslides that have poured from escarpments into all the rivers to devastate the entire landscape of these people. Eleven men, women and children were buried alive. Nearly everyone else fled in fear. The population has assembled at the only two villages with airstrips and radio contact with the outside world – the central village of Huiya and the western village of Dodomona.

Huli landscape in vicinity of Korno before and after the earthquake of 26 February 2018

It will take many years for people to recover from the physical and psychological effects of the 2018 earthquakes. Our concerns are that, in the land of Huli people, government response will be deflected to people’s sometimes violent protests about the PNG LNG project while, in the land of Edolo people, the response will be one of neglect because the people are few in number, isolated and too easily forgotten.

Links

Michael Main (2018) How PNG LNG Is Shaking Up the Earthquake. EnviroSociety, 28 March. www.envirosociety.org/2018/03/michael-main-how-png-lng-is-shaking-up-the-earthquake
Peter D. Dwyer and Monica Minnegal (2018) Refugees on Their Own Land: Edolo People, Land, and Earthquakes. EnviroSociety, 9 June. www.envirosociety.org/2018/06/refugees-on-their-own-land-edolo-people-land-and-earthquakes

 

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