On Saturday the 20th of February 2010, I took a trip to Sepu village at Usino located on the bank of the Ramu River below the Ramu Nickel-Cobalt Mine. The Sepu village had 3 houses washed downstream as a result of the flooding which is continuing because of the continuing wet period.
Ward Councilor Peter Kema from Sepu village, said the magnitude of the flooding is severer than the previous floods, something they have never seen and experienced before. The flood has destroyed the food gardens and the river communities are experiencing a chronic shortage of food.
Sepu village is one of the many villages of the riverine communities along the 4th largest river in PNG which is currently under so much stress from sedimentation buildup.
The Ramu River runs through the Ramu Valley and is located between the Finister and Bismarck Ranges and feeds from tributaries from the two ranges. The natural forces of nature and human activities along the Ramu River and the two ranges are contributing to the impacts on the Ramu River System.
However, there are a number of major development activities around the head-streams of the Ramu River and along the Ramu Valley which cannot be isolated from the ongoing stress of the Ramu River System and its compounding impacts on the livelihoods of the Ramu River communities.
Appropriate scientific research and baseline data of the Ramu River System needs to be undertaken over a sufficient period of time to established adequate facts. However, the number of developments upstream involved a significant forest clearance, thus aggravating intensive runoffs and erosion. Forest cover plays an important role in stopping runoffs and erosion.
The New Britain Palm Oil (NBPOL) recently took over the Ramu Sugar Ltd under a new commercial arrangement of expanding its oil palm business. Forest clearance along the Ramu valley at Dumpu last year, the Kainantu Gold Open Cut Mine in the Eastern Highlands Province (on the Bismarck Range),the river is a major tributary of the Ramu, the Ramu Nickel and Cobalt Mine (major clearance in the construction phase)and the Yandera Mine (Major clearance in the construction phase)all involved major involved forest clearance. Along the Middle-Ramu area, there is ongoing logging activities along the main tributaries of the Ramu.
These developments cannot be excused from impacting the Ramu River System, in terms of the recent floods and the sedimentation buildup. Once these mines go in to full scale operations, than the impacts will be added on to the current impacts. The bottom line is that, lives of people and their livelihoods are at stake.
The livelihoods of the Ramu River communities have not been taken into consideration by the government and the project developers. Over 250,000 people live and depend on the Ramu River System from the Upper Ramu to the Middle-Ramu right down to Bogia(Lower-Ramu). Therefore the potential diabolic consequences can not be undermined by the project developer and the Government of PNG.
Communities at the Lower part of the Ramu have formed a Group called, Ramu River Conservation and Management Authority (RRCMA). RRCMA main objective is to save the Ramu River from the potential destruction from the Ramu Nickel Mine and other major development projects upstream. RRCMA has been raising awareness along the Ramu River from Marangis to Sepu and show no intention of giving up even when the government is not supporting them. RRCMA was successful in get a monitoring station set-up in one of the villages along the Ramu River and have filed a case against the Ramu Nickel Mine (Chinese Meteorological Construction Company-CMCC) and the Mining Resource Authority (MRA) the government body that manages the mining industry (whose legality is also in question because it is controlled by the industry).
The RRCMA gets it! They do not want to end up like the Fly River, Strictland River and the Angabanga River communities who are affected by Ok Tedi, Porgera and Tolukama mining.