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River threatens to cut Lae city in half

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Dec. 30, 2008) – Work has begun on the Bumbu River to control the flood waters threatening to take homes and cut Lae City in half.

The Morobe Disaster and Emergency Service has started work to control the flow of the Bumbu River by dredging the river beds and building sand walls along the banks from Buimo jail to the Admin Compound, where flood waters recently washed some homes away.When the work is completed, the service will undertake a feasibility study to determine a long term solution to the problem.

Centre director Roy Kamen yesterday said machines had moved into the river bed at the site, where Boinamo Enterprises operates its crusher, to build sand walls along the banks and the work would proceed all the way to Admin compound, where flood waters washed some homes away.

The work was funded by the Department of Provincial Affairs and Local Level Government at a cost of K150, 000 [US$58,000].

"This work is only a temporary solution. We have to find a long term solution to the threat posed by Bumbu to Lae. We are putting together documentation to source funding from the National Government to undertake a feasibility study to find out ways to control flooding and the costs," Mr Kamen said.

He said Bumbu River has a history of flooding every 20 years and a disastrous one was encountered in 1983. In that flooding, hundreds of people were left homeless and the Government stepped in to establish Tent Siti to cater for the flood victims.

"We have identified Bumbu River as a major threat and always monitor the river when it rains in Lae. Already the river is threatening homes along the banks now," Kamen said.

He said the Bumbu River previously ran through a section of the city between Diddyman Creek and its current route.

The river has shifted its course so that today it is threatening the Lae Technical College, homes at Admin Compound and Cassowary Road.

"The gardening activities on the hillsides are depositing a lot of sediments into the river, which needs to be dredged. We need to dredge the build-up of the silt in the river beds and install water breaks and driving metal piles along the river banks to build walls to control the river. We are doing that now," Kamen said.

An Australian Government funded study in 1988 had indicated that a flooding Bumbu River, similar in magnitude to the 1983 flood, would incur damages in excess of

K570, 000 per year [US$221,000].

The study, conducted by Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation Limited (SMEC), found that the costs would be for damage to bridges, government institutions, settlements, homes and vital installations along the route of the river.

"Those estimates are of necessity, very crude and do not allow for a major catastrophe such as a complete wash away of bridges, high voltage power towers or the water main. Nor do such estimates account for major realignment such as the river reverting to Didimans Creek," the report said.

The study noted that there was a lot of activity in the Bumbu River when it was not flooding.

It stated that the river attracted a lot of settlements near its banks and the potential for damage continued to increase with development and population pressures.

The study stressed that every effort should be made to attract settlements and developments away from the river while catchments management and protection measures would need to be implemented to minimise degradation that contributed to flood problems.

An extreme option to curb the floodwaters would be to build a huge drain and this would cost some K22 million. The study proposed measures and a time frame in which they should be implemented and also recommended that the construction program be staged.

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