Date: Wed, 26 Jun 2019 10:37:11 +0200
By Elizabeth Vuvu

Kokopo, Papua New Guinea, June 26, 2019 (AFP) - Papua New Guinea's volatile Ulawun volcano -- designated one of the world's most hazardous -- erupted Wednesday, spewing lava high in the air and sending residents fleeing.   A pilot for Niugini Helicopters flying near the crater witnessed a column of lava spurting vertically into the equatorial sky, along with ash that has been belching since early morning.   Ulawun, on the remote Bismarck Archipelago chain, is listed as one of 16 "Decade Volcanoes" targeted for research because they pose a significant risk of large, violent eruptions.   Witnesses said lava had cut off the main highway in north of the island.   "The volcanic activity at Mt Ulawun began at 7:00 am this morning after slight rumbling and light emission," Leo Porikura, an official with the West New Britain Disaster Office, told AFP earlier.   "The Rabaul Volcano Observatory has declared a stage one alert warning of a possible eruption."

Witnesses had reported ash spewing out of the 2,334 metre (7,657 foot) summit, sending trails spanning high overhead.    "The sky has turned black," said Kingsly Quou, manager of the nearby Mavo Estates palm plantation.   Quou said that villagers living at the base of the volcano had already been evacuated and he and his colleagues were gathering their belongings.   Japanese satellite imagery and sources on the ground had shown sulphur dioxide and now volcanic ash drifting from the crater.   Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said the ash reached more than 13 kilometres (44,000 feet) into the air.   The bureau's Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre issued a "red" warning to airlines, indicating the eruption was imminent, although there is not believed to be an immediate threat for flight routes.   Thousands of people live in the shadow of Ulawun, despite it being one of the most active volcanoes in the country.

Porikura said people living in the vicinity of the volcano had been instructed to move away to safer areas and a disaster team had been dispatched.   "The disaster team will liaise with the local community, local businesses and local level government authorities to prepare for a possible eruption," he said.   "Three crucial priority areas being addressed include transport plan, care centre preparations and getting the communities in the high-risk areas to prepare for an evacuation," Porikura said.   The nearby Rabaul Volcano Observatory said emissions from the volcano were getting darker, indicating a higher ash content -- which can cause breathing problems, eye irritation and skin irritation because of the high acid content.   A team of experts had visited earlier this month and reported the volcano was "quiet" adding "there is no indication of any change in its state of unrest."   The ash emissions had been proceeded by an increase in seismic activity, Porikura said.
Date: Tue, 7 May 2019 01:11:25 +0200

Port Moresby, May 6, 2019 (AFP) - A powerful but deep 7.2-magnitude earthquake rocked Papua New Guinea on Tuesday, officials said, cutting power and knocking items off shelves though there were no immediate reports of serious damage.

The quake struck at a depth of 127 kilometres (80 miles) about 30 kilometres (20 miles) from the town of Bulolo at 2119 GMT Monday according to the US Geological Survey, and was felt in the capital Port Moresby about 250 kilometres away.   Officials said there were no immediate reports of major damage and the depth of the tremor meant there was no tsunami threat.   "We have no reports as yet" of serious damage, Inspector Leo Kaikas, Bulolo police station commander, told AFP. "We are still assessing the situation," he said.

Staff at Bulolo's Pine Lodge hotel said there was very minor damage from objects falling off tables, but nothing more serious.   Residents in Lae, more than 100 kilometres away, said the quake knocked things off shelves and worktops and cut electricity in some areas.   "I had just woken up," Christopher Lam, a designer who lives in the city, told AFP. "It lasted a little more than 30 seconds. We had household items knocked off their shelves and the power got cut.   "Things seem to have returned to normal. No structural damage here, though I'm not sure about other buildings in the city."   There are estimated to be around 110,000 people living within 50 kilometres of the epicentre, according to UN data.

The Moresby-based National Disaster Management office said while there were no early reports of damage, but news from the quake zone could take time to trickle in.  "We are awaiting assessments," a spokesman told AFP.   The country's rugged highlands region was hit by a 7.5-magnitude quake in February last year that buried homes and triggered landslides, killing at least 125 people.

The scale of that disaster did not become apparent for days due to PNG's poor communications and infrastructure.   There are regular earthquakes in Papua New Guinea, which sits on the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire -- a hotspot for seismic activity due to friction between tectonic plates.   Along the South Solomon trench, an area of the Pacific that includes PNG, there have been 13 quakes of magnitude 7.5 or more recorded since 1900, according to USGS data.
Date: Mon, 14 Jan 2019 08:57:58 +0100

Kokopo, Papua New Guinea, Jan 14, 2019 (AFP) - Weeks of heavy rains and flooding have killed at least nine people in Papua New Guinea, with authorities warning more bad weather and devastation could be on the way.   Central Province Disaster Division Coordinator Tumai Ipo told AFP Monday they have received reports of at least nine deaths, with many more families left homeless or without access to safe drinking water.

Near the capital Port Moresby, there have been unconfirmed reports of children being washed away by floodwaters, while further down the coast, high winds generated by Cyclone Penny -- which hit northern Australia -- have destroyed homes.   Rising rivers have left many bridges unusable, stranding travellers.   The storms have lashed the country's southern coast since late December but have also caused problems in the north.   Three people are missing after setting out from the mainland to Manus Island on a dinghy around Christmastime. The National Maritime Safety Authority conducted an aerial search on January 5, but failed to locate them.

Authorities have warned airlines and shipping vessels to take precautionary measures.   Samuel Maiha, director of the National Weather Service, said the worst of the rain may have passed, but with Papua New Guinea now in the first months of the 2019 monsoon season, more could be on the way.   "Even after this system is gone, we will still have another four months yet to expect more weather changes, including possible tropical storms and increasing risk of landslides," he told AFP.
Date: Tue, 8 Jan 2019 08:02:28 +0100

Sydney, Jan 8, 2019 (AFP) - One of Papua New Guinea's most active volcanoes has erupted, authorities said Tuesday, pummelling villages on a remote island with volcanic rock before subsiding.   Manam island is a volcanic cone that towers out of the sea north of the Papua New Guinea mainland and has a history of eruptions, with major activity in November 2004 forcing the evacuation of some 9,000 people.

The volcano has erupted a number of times since then and spewed lava and ash last month.   A series of tremors around Manam triggered a warning system on Monday and the volcano began erupting shortly after, the Rabaul Volcanological Observatory said.   The eruption continued into early Tuesday, Ima Itikarai of the observatory told AFP.   An observatory report said there were "small ongoing eruptions" from the main crater early Tuesday.

Lava was channelled into a nearby valley and "intermittent bursts" of volcanic rock falling on villages, adding to a heightened risk of mudflows, it added.   The level of sesmic activity declined later in the day after jumping early Tuesday, the agency said.   But it warned that Manam was "still dynamic and volatile and therefore the potential for further eruptive activity in the future is still high".

Papua New Guinea has many volcanoes, particularly on its offshore islands, as the country lies at the junction of two tectonic plates.   Some islanders who were evacuated from Manam 15 years ago and resettled elsewhere on Papua New Guinea recently complained they were still struggling with their new lives, The National newspaper reported.
Date: Mon, 3 Dec 2018 05:47:33 +0100
By Andrew BEATTY

Mount Hagen, Papua New Guinea, Dec 3, 2018 (AFP) - Decades after polio was eradicated from Papua New Guinea, the crippling and sometimes deadly disease has returned, leaving doctors scrambling to revive long-lapsed vaccination programmes.   Until earlier this year, the polio virus was endemic in only three countries in the world: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.   But a relatively rare strain is now spreading throughout rugged, jungle-cloaked Papua New Guinea, one of the world's poorest countries.   Since the first case was detected in April -- paralysing a six-year-old boy named Gafo near the northern coast -- polio has infected dozens more nationwide, prompting the government to declare a national emergency.

Papua New Guinea, which today has a population of around eight million people, thought it had eradicated the wild variant of the virus in 1996, and was certified polio-free in 2000.   But since then, experts say, lapsed vaccination programmes and poor sanitation have left an open invitation for the prehistoric disease to return.   "It's not a sudden surprise," said Monjur Hossain, a UNICEF expert living in Port Moresby.   "The government knew about it," he told AFP. "We all knew about it."

In a cruel twist, the virus afflicting Papua New Guineans today -- clinically known as VDPV1 -- started life as a vaccine.   The much-weakened version of the polio virus was first ingested as an oral vaccine, before spreading throughout the community via feces.   Because of low-levels of immunisation, the harmless attenuated virus continued to circulate person-to-person for a long period of time, allowing it to mutate into a more virulent strain.

Similar localised outbreaks of vaccine-derived polio have been previously detected in the Horn of Africa, Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.   Still, healthcare workers are adamant that the benefits of vaccination programmes massively outweigh the risk of vaccine-derived polio.   World Health Organization experts estimate well over 10 million cases of polio have been averted worldwide since widespread vaccination began two decades ago, a 99 percent reduction.   But even with modern treatment, an estimated one in 100 cases of polio results in irreversible paralysis. A fraction of those who are paralysed die.

- 'Very expensive, very tough' -
Doctors in Papua New Guinea are trying to respond to the crisis by providing countrywide immunisation -- with at least three oral doses for each child.   Hundreds of thousands have already been vaccinated.   Despite government and international support, the country's lack of roads and unforgiving terrain -- particularly in the central highlands -- have made that task difficult.   Many villages can only be reached by air, or by day-long river trips.

Throw into the mix tribal violence, malnutrition, drought, multiple outbreaks of other diseases like measles and the aftermath of a massive February earthquake and things become more difficult still.   "It's really challenging in terms of access, in terms of logistics," said Hossain. "It's very expensive and very tough."   One answer has been to create mobile clinics that travel to villages far from populous areas like Mount Hagen -- which itself has very few paved roads.   At one such clinic near Mount Hagen's rough-and-tumble market, health worker Margaret Akima is virtually dragging mothers and their children into her barebones trailer.

In the first few days after setting up, she administered more than 100 doses of polio vaccine a day. By the final day of the two week stint, it is down to around 50.   From amid the throngs of bored men -- fighting, shouting and playing darts -- Akima picks out 37-year-old Maria Ponde.   She has travelled to Mount Hagen with her six-year-old daughter Warapnong to buy a spade head.   "I was not expecting her to get vaccinated," Ponde said as the dose was administered to her daughter.   Warapnong has already missed a few courses of the vaccine and only received this one by fluke, underscoring how scattershot the response still is.
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