19 Jul 2023

Bougainville eruption: crops, rivers affected by ash

2:27 pm on 19 July 2023
Mt Bagana via Google map

Mt Bagana Photo: Google Maps

The Mt Bagana eruption in the Papua New Guinea autonomous region of Bougainville is starting to affect crops and there are fears it could impact sources of drinking water, according to reports.

Mt Bagana, which is 1800 metres tall, began spewing out ash and lava on July 7, and the government is issuing daily updates on its response to the volcanic activity.

The government said it was a mild eruption, at level three, on a five level scale.

Reports from locals is that the ashfall has covered vegetation, destroyed food gardens and contaminated rivers and streams used as the primary water source.

On Monday, villages in a number of districts close to the volcano were ordered to move to safety.

The government said all relief efforts were being coordinated through their disaster management teams.

It said it was important that all people in the impacted communities in both Wakunai and Torokina continue to move from their villages to the district stations respectively.

This is to allow District Disaster Management Teams to have oversight and better coordination to move efficiently, carefully and quickly if required.

Food and water supplies will also be distributed at the main camp areas at the Torokina and Wakunai stations respectively.

The government said the affected communities are strongly urged not to use the contaminated water for drinking, cooking or washing.

It warned even if a water source was ash free, the water must be boiled first.

"The ABG Department of Health has activated their Health Emergency Response unit and will mobilise necessary support and medical supplies to be deployed to Torokina and Wakunai tomorrow (Wednesday)," New Dawn FM reported.

The caretaker chief secretary Esther Usurup said that "district health clinical officers on the ground at Piva in Torokina and Ruruvu in Wakunai have been instructed to monitor and report on a daily basis the diseases being reported at the clinics especially diarrhoea and other water borne diseases, plus any reported cases of eye or respiratory infections."

'Smoke is everywhere'

Theresa Jaintong is a community leader in Arawa, which is a significant distance from Mt Bagana and well outside the zone the government has ordered to be evacuated.

Jaintong said Arawa was feeling the impacts of the eruption.

"The impact we are facing now is the ash from the volcano. It's really clouding up," she said.

"The smoke is everywhere, and the fear is we depend entirely on water tanks, because the running water for Arawa town is not treated so that is going to have an impact on our drinking water."

Torokina Disaster coordinator team leader Boniface Wadari said two days after the government order to evacuate some people were yet to move.

"Basically, some of them feel that it is not really a big problem but it's part of life. They need to get more information."

Wadari said the disaster team has received financial help from two national cabinet ministers, the MP for regional Bougainville and the MP for South Bougainville, along with the ABG.

He said this money is being used to get water and food for the evacuees.

Geologists from the Rabaul Volcanological Observatory have undertaken an assessment of the seismic activity in the area.