The mystery of Kumalu’s rage

Weekender

By WANPIS AKO
AMIDST boom in the mining fields and other prospects in the Bulolo electorate, the notorious Kumalu River, with its mysterious tons of debris during flooding, has become a major concern among commuters, business houses and the political leaders along the Wau-Bulolo/Menyamya Highway.
The geological formation of a cone-structured mountain reveals only one outlet that has collapsed due to disturbances and movements of tectonic plates of the Ramu-Markham fault. The wet weather fuels the erosion of the collapsed mountains, unearthing large boulders and silt through to Kumalu villages and onto the highway where the river crosses.
The emancipated flooding of the Kumalu river is coupled with concerns about the current deteriorating state of the highway being hammered mercilessly by heavy trucks contracted to Hidden Valley mines since its inception in 2009 and the heavy use of the highway by other existing operators like PNG Forest Products and Zenag Chicken, major businesses that work in that part of Morobe, and, who contribute hugely to the national coffers.
In fact, this highway, apart from the Okuk Highway, is one of the busiest in PNG.
SMEs such as the coffee buyers and trade store owners, commuters of Menyamya and Bulolo are burdened by the damages caused by the heavy trucks, while the National Government continuingly turning a blind eye to the road’s maintenance.
Kumalu, a meek stream that comes up to your ankle during the dry season, suddenly turns into a beast wreaking havoc during the wet season, washing away motor vehicles, claiming lives, displacing locals. The river’s torrents during heavy rains between November and December every year brings back painful memories of the biggest tragedy in 2002 in which it completely buried the once-bustling and thriving Mumeng Government Station.
The station had long been a stop-over for weary commuters traveling to and from Lae to Mumeng, Buang, Bulolo, Wau, Waria, Upper Watut in Bulolo and all of Menyamya electorate since the colonial era.
The station was relocated to higher ground where it now stands.
The aftermath of debris from the floods has formed a new lake by blocking off two creeks, Zenag and Patep, and another river, Buang.
This severed the road access to Patep village and the local MP and Minister for Communications, Information Technology and Energy, Sam Basil’s home in Buang LLG.
Adapting to Mother Nature’s whims, locals have started using dug-out canoes and a motorized dinghy bought by the district for transporting commuters and their cargoes across the Petep-Munanung Lake.
The formation of the new lake had been a blessing in disguise for the local people as several species of fish have migrated and found refuge in the lake and multiplying, are providing a source of income and additional protein supplement to their diet. Furthermore, locals have seized the opportunity in charging transporting fees from commuters and faring business opportunities.
Travellers can catch PMVs from the lake, or opt to go by foot if they have missed transport, or use an alternative route from Gabensis village known as ‘backroad’ from Huon Gulf electorate into Buang.
The Bulolo highway serves as a nerve center to deliver goods and services to schools and health centers in Menyamya and Bulolo districts.
Harmony Gold Mine, proposed New Crest Mining limited (Wafi-Golpu), Zenag Chicken, PNG Forest Products, small-medium enterprises, churches, commuters and others are also its dependents.
Those who have only known about the river through the news mediums and have not actually seen it, may be forgiven for thinking it is as large as the neighboring Markham, Sepik or Fly River in Western.
It is but a mere stream compared to these big, roaring rivers that can be tens of metres long at their widest. But the Kumalu’s rage is something else. The torrential floods are often accompanied by mud and rocks, and with strength enough to swipe a fully-loaded semi-trailer out of its path.
Two bridges and numerous motor vehicles and trucks have fallen victim to its rage, not to mention the countless lives have been lost.
Maintaining it has cost the Department of Works, companies and the district millions of Kina, yet finding a solution to Kumalu’s mystery and ruthlessness has always been a challenge. In fact, efforts to minimize, or stop its destructive path have been to naught.
In truth, sorcerers and witch doctors from Menyamya, Bulolo and Huon Gulf districts have tried offered their services to try to tame the spiritual beings believed to be existing upstream thus causing the destructions. The DOW regional office in Lae and Bulolo district administration however refused to entertain such untruths.
But MP Basil has been conducting surveys into how to tame the road during his previous two terms as MP, and continues to do so into his third term.
Fourteen million Kina was budgeted for the road in 2012 while he was Minister for National Planning with the money becoming available in 2013 when he was in the Opposition benches.
It was expended by the former Works Minister through Lae-based HBS company which only managed a five kilometer pilot track from the northern to the southern end with this funding.
He added that had the district was given the fund, it would have bought machineries like excavator, bulldozers and roller for the maintenance of the road. The balance of the money would have been also used for associated items like spare parts, fuel and labor. When depleted, we would have sustained it with DSIP funds.
Serving as an Opposition MP, Basil used District Services Improvement Program funds to build another bypass through the upper grounds of the river but the work was starved to idle due to shortage of funds.
When funds were made available, the usual happened on the base of both sides of the river along the bypass. It made it impossible for its resumption and to construct a bridge across it.
The Bulolo MP hopes that more financial help is given to bolster the situation in his electorate
I was part of a parliamentary Opposition’s delegation to officiate at a ribbon-cutting occasion for the district-funded bridges at Wau town in 2015.
On our way to the mining township, the convoy was halted by the burgeoning river and its strong current. With the help of an excavator that had been engaged to clear debris and help vehicles cross, we successfully maneuvered to the other side.
The river was impassable upon our return on the evening of that same day. The excavator and its operator had left for the day and there was no other alternative but for us to retreat to Wau for the night and opted to fly to Lae the next day.
Basil hopes that more financial help is given to bolster the road situation in his electorate with a new bypass route currently being worked on.
If he has his way, the MP wants to build a bypass road that will run from Gabensis via Buang and onwards to Baiune.
The Minister has thanked Prime Minister Peter O’Neill for allocating K10 million for the rehabilitation of the 128-km Wau-Bulolo road. He estimated the cost of a full upgrade to be between K90 to K100 million and is adamant that funding will be made available by the government in next year’s budget, in light of Wafi-Golpu gold mine coming on stream in the same year.

  • Wanpis Ako is press officer to the Minister for Communications, IT & Energy.

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