NORTHERN Province, the land of the world’s largest butterfly (Queen Alexandra Butterfly), has the potential to become a major tourist destination in Papua New Guinea.
It also has great economic potential, especially in agriculture.
Oro, as this rural under-developed province is commonly known, attracts hundreds of tourists from Australia and around the world annually to walk the infamous Kokoda Track.
The trek, which links Oro to Central province, is synonymous with World War 2 and culminated in the battle at Kumusi River where the Allied forces defeated the Japanese army in November 1942.
Oro’s story has been one of overcoming geographical and climatic challenges to build the transport routes upon which the local economy depends.
In the early days, miners used the rivers as transport routes to access the mountainous interior. The gold fields in Yodda Valley of Kokoda drove the province’s development at the start of the 20th Century. The mining activities resulted in the construction of a road from Kumusi to Oro Bay.
Following the war, a major catastrophe struck in January 1951 when the sudden eruption of Mount Lamington caused immediate and total destruction of the newly-built government station at Higaturu. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, it was estimated that 4000 people had been killed with a further 1500 forced to abandon villages demolished outright by the eruption’s blast. The government station was moved to Popondetta, which has since become the provincial capital.
Another major natural disaster struck in November 2007 when Cyclone Guba wreaked havoc on much of the province. The cyclone crossed the coast on November 13 and dumped such heavy rainfall across the province that the rivers rose, overflowing their banks, uprooting trees and sweeping seaward in a souring, tumultuous torrent. Cyclone Guba caused the deaths of 200 people in Oro and inflicted massive damage to buildings and infrastructure throughout the province.
Aside from tourism, Oro has great potential to develop and grow other economic sectors such as agriculture. It is already a major palm oil producer.
The province’s future economic growth and prosperity is dependent on a modern road transport system.
The O’Neill Government recognised this need for infrastructure development and initiated the Oro Bridge Reconstruction Project, which is a milestone achievement for Papua New Guinea and Australia.
As Works and Implementation Secretary David Wereh says, “Wealth does not create roads but roads create wealth.”
As an engineer and bureaucrat, Wereh firmly believes that world-class road and bridge infrastructure compliment good leadership and sound economic policies.
He attributes the massive infrastructure development that has taken place in the last four years to the stable political environment that has been the hallmark of the O’Neill Government.
“The Oro Bridge Reconstruction Project will be a legacy of the O’Neill Government. This new world-class infrastructure also enhances the strong bilateral partnership between PNG and Australia,” Wereh says.
The Australian government funded the project, which was delivered through the Department of Works and Implementation. The contract value is K139.4 million for the Kumusi Bridge and three other bridges at Eroro, Ambogo and Guria.
The new bridges are designed to withstand future extreme weather patterns due to climate change that is causing havoc to roads, bridges and other infrastructure throughout the country.
Australian road construction company Canstruct PNG Ltd was contracted in October 2013 by the Works Department to design and construct new bridges in Oro to replace those that had been destroyed by Cyclone Guba.
The bridges were built over four different rivers: Kumusi Bridge is 285 metres long, Girua (150m), Ambogo (100m) and Eroro (66m).
The construction period for the four bridges began in January 2014 and ended in September this year.
Two ceremonies were held to mark the completion of project.
The first was on July 2 when a government delegation led by Wereh, Transport Secretary Roy Mumu and Australian High Commission representatives commissioned the Girua, Ambogo and Eroro bridges with Oro Governor Gary Juffa.
The second commissioning was on November 23 for the Kumusi Bridge, which is now the longest two-lane bridge in PNG.
As Deputy Prime Minister, Leo Dion, said during the ceremony, “This is truly a milestone in bridge construction and structures in our country and an engineering spectacle that we should all be proud of.”
Sir Leo alluded to the fact that “nature has not always been good to us”.
“The Oro province has had its fair share of natural disasters, caused by the ever-changing weather patterns. We are sadly reminded of the destruction and misery caused to human lives and properties that disasters such as Cyclone Guba have caused in the past,” Sir Leo told the people and officials who witnessed the commissioning of Kumusi Bridge.
Accompanying Sir Leo was Australian High Commissioner Bruce Davis, National Planning Charles Abel, Religion and Community Development Minister Delilah Gore and Works Secretary David Wereh.
Leo also said that the proposed ANZAC Highway, linking Oro to Central and the National Capital District, should be built to further strengthen bilateral ties between PNG, Australia and New Zealand. It is proposed that the highway construction will be funded by Australia and New Zealand with expertise also provided by the two countries.
High Commissioner Davis commended the O’Neill Government for creating political stability over the past four years for the construction of the Kumusi Bridge and the other three bridges.
Secretary Wereh added that the Oro Bridge Reconstruction Project must be seen as a catalyst for climate resilient infrastructure development project in PNG.
“The successful completion of the project proves that such projects can only be successful with long-term political stability, strong partnership, good leadership, committed public servants and responsive community participation, a holistic approach.
“Bridge infrastructure is a static piece of human creation and innovation that is acquired over time from education and hands-on experience specifically in the field of engineering.”
Since its completion, the Kumusi bridge has catered for the transportation of disaster relief supplies and seriously ill patients from Oro Bay to Popondetta General Hospital.
The four new bridges are a vital contribution to improving the lives of the Oro people and enhancing economic activities. But modern communication remains a major snag.
The topography of Oro can basically be described as a strip of low lying flat land between the north coast and the foothills of the Owen Stanley Ranges to the South. Out of those majestic mountains run a succession of rivers that flow across the coastal lowlands to drain into the sea of Oro Bay.
The roads and bridges cross these rivers to connect the rural communities to facilities such as hospitals and schools in the provincial capital and government stations.
Infrastructure development is everybody’s responsibility and the new Oro bridges should be seen as a stepping-stone to bigger and better things for this impoverished province.
- Article courtesy of the Department of Works and Implementation Media Unit.