Aid shipment finally reaches PNG region affected by volcanic eruption

Harlyne Joku
Port Moresby
Aid shipment finally reaches PNG region affected by volcanic eruption Humanitarian aid donated by India’s government for people displaced by a volcanic eruption in Papua New Guinea is loaded onto a Royal Australian Air Force transport plane at Jacksons International Airport on Jan. 29, 2024.
Harlyne Joku/BenarNews

Tons of disaster relief supplies for people who fled a volcanic eruption in Papua New Guinea have been airlifted to the affected region this week, more than a month after the goods arrived in the country.

The medical supplies and other goods donated by India’s government in December, totaling about 17 tons, started arriving on the island of West New Britain on Monday with Australian air force help. The Pacific island country’s small military doesn’t have a transport plane.

“We were unable to get the assistance from the government to airfreight the supplies so approached the Defence Force who liaised with the Australian Defence who sent this help,” National Disaster Office director Lusete Mana told BenarNews on Tuesday. 

“The aircraft was here on another mission but was sent to assist the airfreight for this week,” he said.

The eruption of Mt. Ulawun on Nov. 20 displaced about 26,000 people and created urgent humanitarian needs, disaster officials said at the time. Many of the displaced are still living in two makeshift “care centers.” 

Photos posted on the Facebook page used to disseminate information to the public about disasters in West New Britain show other aid being distributed in the region in late December. 

Aside from India, humanitarian aid also has been provided by Australia, the United States and China, according to West New Britain’s disaster office. Two palm oil companies in West New Britain have provided trucks to transport humanitarian supplies.

Aid donated by India’s government for people displaced by a volcanic eruption in Papua New Guinea is unloaded at Hoskins in West New Britain island on Jan. 29, 2024. [Handout/West New Britain Provincial Disaster Office]

Papua New Guinea’s Rabaul Volcano Observatory lowered Ulawun’s alert level on Jan. 9 but said it wasn’t completely quiet. It continues to monitor Ulawun with one seismic station after the station closest to the volcano was knocked out of action on Nov. 20 by a powerful pyroclastic flow of superhot gas and volcanic debris

It was the largest pyroclastic flow on record for the volcano and devastated a vegetated area of seven square kilometers (2.7 square miles), according to the observatory. 

“We were thinking of moving people back to their homes but the volcano has not died down completely, there is still seismic activity taking place,” Clement Bailey, director of West New Britain’s provincial disaster office, told BenarNews.

“The affected people are still accommodated in two major care centers and are unsure whether to return to their homes or not.”

Heavy rains have compounded difficulties for the region by causing mudslides that can bury homes and roads, Bailey said.

Papua New Guinea is prone to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes because of its location on the “Ring of Fire,” an arc of volcanoes and fault lines in the Pacific Ocean. The country of an estimated 12 million people has about 40 active volcanoes. 

Locals were prepared for the possibility of an eruption because of an alert from the volcano observatory and there were no deaths or injuries.


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