Papua New Guinea says Friday's landslide buried more than 2,000 people and formally asks for help (2024)

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — A Papua New Guinea government official has told the United Nations that more than 2,000 people are believed to have been buried alive by last Friday’s landslide and has formally asked for international help.

The government figure is roughly triple the U.N. estimate of 670 killed by the landslide in the South Pacific island nation’s mountainous interior. The remains of only five people had been recovered by Monday, local authorities reported. It was not immediately clear why the tally of six reported on Sunday had been revised down.

In a letter to the United Nations resident coordinator dated Sunday and seen by The Associated Press, the acting director of the country’s National Disaster Center, Luseta Laso Mana, said the landslide “buried more than 2,000 people alive” and caused “major destruction” in Yambali village in Enga province.

Estimates of the casualties have varied widely since the disaster occurred, and it was not immediately clear how officials arrived at the number of people affected.

The International Organization for Migration, which is working closely with the government and taking a leading role in the international response, has not changed its estimated death toll of 670 released on Sunday, pending new evidence.


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“We are not able to dispute what the government suggests but we are not able to comment on it,” said Serhan Aktoprak, chief of the U.N. migrant agency’s mission in Papua New Guinea.

“As time goes in such a massive undertaking, the number will remain fluid,” Aktoprak added.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres sent “heartfelt condolences” to the families of the victims and the people and government of Papua New Guinea and said the U.N. and its partners are supporting the government’s response efforts, and “the United Nations stands ready to offer additional assistance at this challenging time,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Monday.

The death toll of 670 was based on calculations by Yambali village and Enga provincial officials that more than 150 homes had been buried by the landslide. The previous estimate had been 60 homes.

The office of Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape did not respond Monday to a request for an explanation of what the government estimate of 2,000 was based on. Marape has promised to release information about the scale of the destruction and loss of life when it becomes available.

Determining the scale of the disaster is difficult because of challenging conditions on the ground, including the village’s remote location, a lack of telecommunications and tribal warfare throughout the province which means international relief workers and aid convoys require military escorts.

At least 26 tribal warriors and mercenaries were killed in a battle between two warring tribes in Enga in February, as well as an unconfirmed number of bystanders.

The national government’s lack of reliable census data also adds to the challenges of determining how many are potentially dead.

The government estimates Papua New Guinea’s population at around 10 million people, although a U.N. study, based on data including satellite photographs of roof tops, estimated in 2022 it could be as high as 17 million. An accurate census has not been held in the nation in decades.

The landslide also buried a 200-meter (650-foot) stretch of the province’s main highway under debris 6 to 8 meters (20 to 26 feet) deep, creating a major obstacle for relief workers.

Mana said the landslide would have a major economic impact on the entire country.

An excavator donated by a local builder Sunday became the first piece of heavy earth-moving machinery brought in to help villagers who have been digging with shovels and farming tools to find bodies. Working around the still-shifting debris is treacherous.

“The situation remains unstable” due to the shifting ground, “posing ongoing danger to both the rescue teams and survivors alike,” Mana wrote to the United Nations.

Mana and Papua New Guinea’s defense minister, Billy Joseph, flew on Sunday in an Australian military helicopter from the capital of Port Moresby to Yambali, 600 kilometers (370 miles) to the northwest, to gain a firsthand perspective of what is needed.

Mana’s office posted a photo of him at Yambali handing a local official a check for 500,000 kina ($130,000) to buy emergency supplies for 4,000 displaced survivors.

The purpose of the visit was to decide whether Papua New Guinea’s government needed to officially request more international support.

Earth-moving equipment used by Papua New Guinea’s military was being transported to the disaster scene, 400 kilometers (250 miles) from the east coast city of Lae.

Traumatized villagers are divided over whether heavy machinery should be allowed to dig up and potentially further damage the bodies of their buried relatives, officials said.


Associated Press journalist Adam Schreck in Bangkok contributed to this report.

Papua New Guinea says Friday's landslide buried more than 2,000 people and formally asks for help (2024)


Papua New Guinea says Friday's landslide buried more than 2,000 people and formally asks for help? ›

The Papua New Guinea government said more than 2,000 people are believed to have been buried alive in a landslide in the South Pacific island nation, after the side of a mountain came down in the early hours of Friday morning when the village of Yambali was asleep.

Why is Papua New Guinea so poor? ›

The International Monetary Fund has reported that despite PNG's poverty, it is richly endowed with natural resources, but exploitation has been hampered by the rugged terrain and the high cost of developing infrastructure. Agriculture provides a subsistence livelihood for the bulk of the population.

Where is Papua New Guinea? ›

Papua New Guinea is an island country that lies in the south-western Pacific. It includes the eastern half of New Guinea and many small offshore islands.

What is the biggest problem in PNG? ›

Papua New Guinea's main security and stability challenges are internal — including climate change, biodiversity loss, gender-based violence, internal stability issues, and the future political status of Bougainville.

What is the poorest country in the world? ›

  • Somalia.
  • South Sudan.
  • Sudan.
  • Tanzania.
  • The Gambia.
  • Togo.
  • Uganda.
  • Zambia.

Who controls Papua New Guinea? ›

Papua New Guinea is a constitutional monarchy. The Head of State is HM King Charles III, represented in Papua New Guinea by a Governor-General, currently His Excellency Sir Robert Dadae.

What is New Guinea named after? ›

When Portuguese and Spanish explorers arrived via the Spice Islands, they also used the name Papua. However, Westerners, beginning with Spanish explorer Yñigo Ortiz de Retez in 1545, used the name New Guinea, due to the resemblance between the indigenous peoples of the island and Africans of the Guinea region.

Why is Papua New Guinea famous? ›

The extraordinary profusion in Papua New Guinea of plants such as orchids, figs (genus Ficus), and false beech (Nothofa*gus) and of such animals as cassowaries, birds-of-paradise, parrots, butterflies, and marsupials—including tree kangaroos and cuscus (a type of phalanger)—gives the island an unparalleled biogeography.

Why is Papua New Guinea crime rate so high? ›

The factor behind the rioting that comes up a lot is unemployment, which affects a lot of people in urban areas, especially Port Moresby. For example, people flee from the Highlands region where there is high tribal violence and they seek refuge and opportunities here.

How corrupt is Papua New Guinea? ›

In the 2023 Index, Papua New Guinea scored 29 and ranked 133rd. For comparison with worldwide scores, the best score was 90 (ranked 1), the average score was 43, and the worst score was 11 (ranked 180).

What is the main source of income in Papua New Guinea? ›

The formal economy is based on exports of natural resources, and the large informal economy relies on subsistence farming and other small-scale activity.

Why is PNG struggling economically? ›

Core industries like manufacturing and retail have not performed as expected due to a foreign exchange shortage which has discouraged foreign direct investment inflows and impacted the economy. PNG is a low-income country where the average consumer has limited purchasing power.


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