Heads need to roll at the National Disaster Committee (NDC). Their response to the Tumbi disaster has been nothing short of incompetent, opaque, and haphazard. Making matters worse, they have conducted their investigation into the cause of the landslide in partnership with ExxonMobil (via Esso Highlands), the very organisation that stands accused of contributing to the landslide.
|Representatives from Exxon Mobil, NDC and AusAID, Tumbi, 25 January 2012|
The NDC have claimed in a report dated 26 January 2012: "Given the absence of a seismic trigger, it can be concluded, that the landslide was caused by continuously heavy rainfall weakening the limestone formation causing subsidence". Clearly this is not a surprising finding, given ExxonMobil was on the investigation team.
However, undermining this conclusion are a series of schoolboy errors that litter the report. Not only does the report fail to consider the role of the quarry, its explanation of the alleged trigger is nothing short of nonsense. Leading international landslide expert, Dave Petley has slammed the report, stating:
as described in the report. First, the report notes that pools and seepage on the shear face indicate that the “ground water rose significantly above its historical levels”. I do not understand this logic. Seepage and pools are likely to occur in the aftermath of almost any deep landslide of this type, and I do not see why they indicate that the groundwater levels were abnormally high, or indeed that groundwater even played a substantial role. Second, the report notes that the initial assessment team “saw clear evidence of liquefaction of the rock formation”. This is most surprising. Limestone is not a material that undergoes liquefaction – I have never heard of such a mechanism in any hard (as defined from an engineering behaviour perspective) rock – and so I just cannot understand this purported process. Unfortunately, it is not discussed further.Perhaps having caught wind of the expert commentary on their report, the leader of the NDC investigation, Martin Path, is beginning to back track. In an interview with the ABC's Sen Lam on 10 February, Path made the startling admission that the cause of the landslide is unknown, despite the NDC clearing stating in their report that the cause was " heavy rainfall"
LAM: And Martin, at the time of the disaster, the landslide was blamed on blasting at nearby quarries, near the Exxon-Mobil LNG project in the Southern Highlands. Is a clearer picture emerging, of what happened, that early Tuesday morning? Are you getting a clearer picture now?
PATH: Not as yet. We have yet to conduct, er, we are conducting some portion of the independent investigation that the National ... Council has endorsed. We believe that an independent investigation unit has been assigned, and we believe that this group would be up here over the weekend. But we also have the geo-hazard technical team on the ground now, since Day One. So they're still providing the information, so with regards to the quarry that was established some years back, we have yet to establish the actual cause, what actually caused this slide.So, on the 26 January the NDC was quite prepared to report to the National Executive Committee that the cause of the landslide was heavy rainwater, now they acknowledge they have yet to conduct a proper investigation or establish the cause.
Had it not been for the outspoken stance taken by traditional landowners, NGOs, the PNG Trade Union congress, bloggers, and various media outlets, this startling admission would have never been obtained.
Nevertheless, by allowing ExxonMobil to work with the NDC investigation team; by releasing a report that was full of elementary errors; by failing to comply any solid data on the landslide's victims; by failing to properly care for the displaced; we call upon Sam Path to do the right thing and step down from his position. He has failed the local community and the nation.
Stop Press: We have just been contacted by a landowner from the Tumbi area. LNG Watch has been told that on the 11th of February, Martin Path from the NDC, along with a Mobile Squad Commander, told local landowners that if they continued to block ExxonMobil from clearing the road covered by the Tumbi landslide, they would be denied the 10 million in humanitarian aid offered to them by the O'Neil government. The landowner blockade was erected in order to prevent a government whitewash of the Tumbi landslide. Fearing loss of the humanitarian aid, landowners have lifted the blockade. Now they feel tricked. If a Commission of Inquiry is not called urgently, matters could get out of hand quickly.