Monday 27 May 2024

Over 2000 feared to have died in New Guinea landslide.

More than 2000 people are now feared to have died in a landslide that hit a remote area of Enga Province, Papua New Guinea on Friday 24 May 2024. Initial reports placed the estimated number of dead at about 100, then were revised upwards to around 670 on Sunday 26 May as rescue workers began to reach the area. It has new been revised upwards again to over 2000, as it has become clear that several villages appear to have been covered by as much as 8 m of sediment and boulders.

The scene of a major landslide which took place in Enga Province, Papua New Guinea, on Friday 24 May 2024, which is feared to have killed more than 2000 people. Kindupan Kambii/Facebook/ABC News.

The cause of the landslide is unclear, though it is likely to have been related to recent heavy rainfall in the area. Landslides are a common problem after severe weather events, as excess pore water pressure can overcome cohesion in soil and sediments, allowing them to flow like liquids. Approximately 90% of all landslides are caused by heavy rainfall. It is also possible that the activities of miners destabilised the hillslope where the slippage occurred.

Aerial view of the 24 May 2024 Enga Province landslide. Al Jazeera.

The monsoon season in Papua New Guinea typically lasts from December to March, but like many other countries has been suffering unseasonal heavy rains due to the exceptionally high global temperatures in the past year, linked to a combination of anthropogenic global warming, driven by emissions of carbon dioxide and methane, with an El Niño - Southern Oscillation climate system over the Pacific Ocean, a natural phenomenon which also tends to drive temperatures upwards. However, the El Niño system appears to have been weakening over the past months, with sea surface temperatures over the eastern equatorial Pacific actually being lower than the average for 1990-2020, while global temperatures have continued to rise, suggesting that the El Niño system may be playing as large a role in driving this year's high temperatures as previously assumed.

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