Rosemary Church, CNN

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Landslide in Papua New Guinea, Australian support for Papua New Guinea.

Rosemary Church: Pat Conroy is a member of the Australian Parliament and the Minister for International Development and the Pacific. He joins me now live from Canberra, Australia. Thank you, Minister, for being with us.

Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Pat Conroy: My pleasure.

Rosemary Church: So, what information do you have on the number of casualties in the aftermath of this deadly landslide in Papua New Guinea?

Minister Conroy: Well, we're relying on the reports from the Papua New Guinea emergency management agencies and the latest estimates are somewhere between 700 and 2000 fatalities. About 160 buildings were buried under the landslide that occurred at 03:00 a.m. on Friday morning. And the debris, as was reported, is six to eight metres deep. Importantly and worryingly, the site is still very unstable from a geo-technical point of view. So, it's making it very challenging for people to clear the rubble that they're having to do with more landslides occurring.

Rosemary Church: And in addition to those local casualties, we are hearing that two Canadian citizens may be unaccounted for. What are you learning about that?

Minister Conroy: I've heard initial reports or rumours of that, but we haven't been able to confirm that. Obviously, we have a disaster assistance response team that should be on site by now and they're conducting incident management, logistical support and deploying drones to map the site. New Zealand has two geohazard experts that arrived in Port Moresby today and will be transporting them up to the site over the next day or two. So, it's a very remote part of Enga Province and it's very challenging to get supplies and personnel up there.

Rosemary Church: Right. You mentioned those drones, but what other assistance is Australia providing Papua New Guinea and what is the plan for perhaps a longer-term commitment here?

Minister Conroy: Well, we've provided $2.5 million as an initial response package. More will follow. Australian Defence Force aircraft, Royal Australian Air Force aircraft have been transporting PNG officials and our team up there and supplies. We've had flights up the last few days. Our first flight was on Saturday, a day after the landslide. Sorry, Sunday in fact. We've transporting 750 family-sized shelters because there's about 8000 local Papua New Guineans who are displaced. We’re supporting with rations, water, sanitation and hygiene kits, because there is a risk, obviously, of disease and exposure around the disaster side as well. So, we're providing lots of resources. That's on top of the $630 million of foreign aid that we provide each year to Papua New Guinea. They're our closest neighbour and our dearest friend and I've communicated to senior Ministers that will provide whatever assistance Papua New Guinea needs, not just in the immediate crisis, but in the recovery over the next months and years.

Rosemary Church: And we were just watching video of a lot of those supplies being loaded onto planes there being sent to Papua New Guinea. What is the greatest need right now?

Minister Conroy: I think the greatest need is to make an assessment of the site to work out what are the safe approaches to clearing the debris. Sadly, I think most people are saying at this stage we're in a phase of retrieving bodies rather than finding people alive, but that's critically important. Opening up the road so that we can get heavy equipment in is very important, and getting the 8000 displaced villagers shelter, two emergency medical centres are being set up as well, and looking after the survivors is critical.

Rosemary Church: Minister, thank you so much for talking with us. We appreciate it.

Minister Conroy: Thank you very much.

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