5 Mar 2012

Calls continue for independent investigation into PNG's Tumbi landslide

11:01 am on 5 March 2012

Calls for a full-scale investigation into the cause of the Tumbi landslide in Papua New Guinea persist, more than six weeks after the disaster.

The January 24 landslide in Southern Highlands province is believed to have killed at least 25 people.

The Red Cross says the toll could be as high as 60 but to date reports from the Tumbi area indicate few, if any, bodies have been recovered.

The local Hela community wants an independent probe into the disaster but, after waiting over a month for a government-flagged investigation to commence, has started its own investigations.

Johnny Blades reports:

An NGO which monitors the country's major LNG gas project, led by Exxon Mobil, says pressure is still being applied on the developer by locals in Tumbi over the disaster.

Locals have blamed the landslide on the Tumbi quarry, which was used by Exxon for its project and sits atop the massive landslide.

Stanley Mamu of LNG Watch says calls for compensation from the grieving Tumbi community may ultimately hinge on the outcome of an official inquiry.

But he says so far the official response has focussed on clearing the main road which was cut off in the landslide.

"The investigation team organised by the landowners are on the ground and compiling their report currently. The government said it would send an investigation team but I haven't heard that it's in place so I don't know when they'll be sending the investigation team down."

Tumbi landowners commissioned Tindipu Hapo to lead an investigating team which includes local scientists.

He has indicated that techniques used by contractors operating quarries for Exxon have come under scrutiny.

It's largely to be said, the landslide is a man-made disaster - not like it's naturally landslides. Right now I haven't finished testing. I'll give full details in the report when I finish everything up.

While the recent MV Rabaul sinking has been afforded a full commission of inquiry, the government has been criticised for not doing enough to address the Tumbi question.

PNG's Treasurer and Highlands leader, Don Polye, says he agrees with concerns raised.

Was it a natural landslide or was it caused by activities that went on in there - this is a matter that must be established through an investigation and I support that there should be an investigation. I will discuss with the Prime Minister on the matter.

Stanley Mamu says an independent probe is essential.

If only we have a full investigation team in place, a full independent investigation in place. Without that, they (families of victims) will never claim compensation. And this killing of pigs offered by companies, I don't know why they are doing these things because if the company says they haven't done these things (activities that caused the landslide), it will be meaningless to offer these things.