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By Walter Darius

DUKE OF YORK, Papua New Guinea (March 26, 1999 -- The Independent)---Villagers on Duke of York island in East New Britain are fleeing their homes as a result of high tides which they claim have sunk a large part of Kabatirai village.

The high tides were first detected two years ago after several houses were washed away with food gardens and large portions of coconut plantations. The people want to know why this unusual natural phenomenon was occurring on the island.

"The situation is getting worse. Early this year we lost several houses and a primary school at the same village (Kabatirai) and although we have raised the alarm with our MP (Kokopo) Sir Rabbie Namaliu and provincial authorities, no one has been able to tell us why this is happening or when it will stop," LLG President for Duke of York, Lesley Maneo said.

Mr. Maneo raised the matter during question time in the provincial assembly on Tuesday, claiming he was personally concerned about the gradual displacement of Kabatirai villagers if the situation got worse in the next six months.

Last month Mr. Maneo reported that more than five families had been made homeless as sea water rose to about 30 feet higher than its normal level. He claimed that with the unusually high tides, trees and plain white sandy beaches along the coastlines of some of the adjacent villages -- which includes Moalim -- have also been washed away.

Mr. Maneo told the assembly that he had personally asked for some expert advise on the nature and unusual behavior of the tide but that has not been provided. He also claimed that he had raised the issue at a number of joint district planning and budget priorities committee meetings in Kokopo but these had also fallen on deaf ears.

"I want to know why my pleas have not been attended to by the authorities and why the government and those in authority are keeping quiet about the matter. Are they sending a team of experts to the island to see the problem for themselves or do they want to see lives lost first before they can do something? The number of people being affected is growing rapidly and unless there is an investigation and an explanation, the government may have no choice but to look for an alternative piece of land to relocate the people.

Responding to Mr. Maneo's question, the chairman for works and transport, Henrey Toningo, said a team of engineers and scientists will be sent to the island soon to see the problem themselves and report back to the government before any action is taken.

Mr. Ningo said the rise in the level of sea water on Duke of York island was due to a number of factors and that it was not a serious problem at this stage. Villagers in the area should be urged to move inland and onto higher ground, he said.

"This is a global problem and it is also affecting a lot of other island nations in the Pacific Ocean. It is caused by various factors which include climatic changes, earthquakes and changes in the weather pattern. Sometimes it's affected by the moon, which causes higher and lower tides along the coastlines," Mr. Ningo said.

The problem was recently reported in the Carterets islands in North Solomons province. It is believed it is caused by some global changes to the oceans' seabed and to melting ice in the polar regions.

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