PNG health authorities worry for water supplies after protest
Health authorities in Papua New Guinea's Eastern Highlands are worried that water supplies are being put at risk by protesting landowners.
Around two weeks ago, the water coming into the Goroka water treatment plant simply stopped flowing.
Officials didn't know at the time, but upstream, in the nearby village of Komiufa, landowners had barricaded a stream in protest at the government.
A week later, water tanks across Goroka were running dry and a 300-bed hospital was forced to close.
The Eastern Highlands hospital authority chief executive, Dr Joseph Apa, said most patients were forced to leave.
"It's like a human created disaster here, we have problems with everything in town, in hotels and the schools and everywhere else including the hospital."
Dr Apa said normal operations at the hospital resumed on Monday, after the government caved and the river barrier was removed.
In the end, Komiufa landowners got a payout of nearly $US800,000.
The environmental hostage-taking of Goroka shows just how dangerous bubbling landowner resentment is in Papua New Guinea.
Dr Apa said PNG's rural communities -- which make up around 87% of the population -- could easily use the same tactics to strike again.
But he's sympathetic towards Komiufa village, where landowners had claimed they had been waiting on land lease payments for 20 years.
"It is what's supposed to be done long time ago. They should have some sort of payment done regularly but they didn't do it."
It's unclear how many people were affected by the water shutoff in Goroka, where about 19,000 people live.
But our correspondent, Melvin Levongo, said many schools and houses across the Eastern Highlands also suffered.
"Most houses had to depend on tank water, the water they got from the rain, people usually depend on the water supplies."
Even with the water supply back, locals in Goroka still struggle to access clean water.
One of them, Gloria Mahabi, said there had been an outbreak of typhoid in the town since last year because of the unclean water supply.
"You have a population increase there where they just throw baby diapers into the feeder stream that supplies the water. Then you have huge sediment piling up there that the government has done nothing about."
Elsewhere in Papua New Guinea, the situation is even grimmer.
On Wednesday, local media reported a psychiatric hospital outside the capital Port Moresby had been closed after an outbreak of Hepatitis A.
Lab tests confirmed two wells used at the hospital had been contaminated with bacteria for 19 years.
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