LEONARD FONG ROKA
PANGUNA - Sometime in 2017 or 2018 I wrote an article for the PNG Post-Courier office at Arawa warning people that the Panguna mine pit could turn into a lake.
Twenty years of earth being chipped away by small scale alluvial gold operations had brought the Kabarong river perilously close to breaching the pit wall.
Now, in 2022, it is happening.
Just last week, a team from Panguna comprising ordinary citizens and community government people went to Buka to secure government assistance to help people once the disaster unfolds.
But should the government or other donors help? I don’t think so. This threat is our own creation.
It is us, the Panguna people, who have created it with our greed for money brought by the gold.
And the pride we bear as people of Panguna; a pride which gives nobody the right to guide us on the future of this mine which is in ruins.
Two waterways are currently threatening the Panguna mine pit as people from local villages watch in shock.
Just last month rains battered the district and the Barapinang River - located on a two kilometre concrete bed at the northern rim of the pit by Bougainville Copper Limited - overloaded its bed with sediment and rocks and entered the pit.
As people panicked the water cut its way through with massive rock slides.
Artisanal miners who had settled at the bottom of the mine pit were prepared to run but the water receded as the rains stopped.
But the Barapinang is still entering the pit since its re-routing has been made irreparable by these gold-money-rich figures of Panguna who own most of the gold dug-outs dotted around the Panguna district.
Then we have the major river system, the Kabarong, which every day brings massive sedimentation from further upstream into the former Panguna township and industrial area.
Gold digging has been here since 2014, and today uses mechanical excavators.
In 2019 this waste deposit conquered the levee constructed by BCL that stretched the entire length of the Panguna township.
Now all bridges are being covered by sedimentation and new traffic routes have to be opened to reach the Panguna mine’s residential sections.
The gravel barricade and road system stretching through the north-west from the Barapinang to the primary crusher area has roughly three meters to go before the Kabarong River sediments topple it and heads into the pit.
This is Panguna’s fear, for three meters is nothing to nature.
Day by day artisanal miners dig out gold from within the Panguna mine site and up the Kabarong River to the Kupe goldfield on Crown Prince Range, the backbone of Bougainville.
And day by day they have their overburden and other waste washed down from gold panning activities.
This is trapped along the levee which these days is vegetated, and so sediments build up.
Small business houses and settlements are uprooted and people, relocate their activities, but every flooding season more sediment reaches them and they keep moving on.
When floods occur more water seeps into the gravel dumps and down at Pirurari village located at the foot of the dumps.
And for us, once the Kabarong enters the pit, this will be a massive lake which will uproot the old town area and the settlers there.
From the pit, the water will wash the dumps downstream, covering the villages of Pirurari, and parts of Onove and Enamira, at the entrance of the Panguna pit drainage tunnel.
To us, this washout will take our village of Dapera with it.
This change will also mark the end of traffic flowing through the Panguna area from south Bougainville and vice versa; another blow to the still infant economy and the independence dream.
Sadly in Panguna we are looking at the government to help stop the miners.
But people are destroying the environment to help themselves since their government is not a government but rather a garden for bureaucrats and politicians to fatten themselves.