NZ help for new PNG highlands road
New Zealand soldiers help the PNGDF kick off a major road building project from the PNG highlands to the northern coast.
The New Zealand Defence Force is helping the Papua New Guinea Defence Force to build a new 350 kilometre road linking Mount Hagen and Madang.
For the past month a 20 strong contingent of New Zealand army engineers and tradespeople has been mentoring PNG soldiers in road building techniques.
The gravel road, from the highlands to the coast, will link over 100 remote mountain villages, cutting through dense forest and crossing the Bismarck mountain range.
Lieutenant Leroy Judge says the team has been teaching road building techniques, basic maintenance, and safety procedures.
He told Don Wiseman it is a major challenge.
LEROY JUDGE: It's a huge ask. The terrain is rough as guts over here. They're going pretty well at the moment - they've also reached Ruti Valley which they'll probably fly through. But then that sort of sees them hit the bottom of the Bismarck Range which goes from about 500 metres up to over to about 2100 metres.
DON WISEMAN: So you've been in fairly dense forest for a lot of the past month then?
LJ: Yeah. We are surrounded by forest at the moment. So yeah, a lot of bugs and mosquitoes, pretty limited in terms of communication with anywhere. Two hours away from Hagen so the roads are pretty rough. It's not an enjoyable road trip at all.
DW: Do you go back to Hagen each day or are you camping on the road?
LJ: We have brought our accommodation, so tents and whatnot over. So we try and limit our trips into town. We're going in about twice a week just to get fresh rations.
DW: Enga Province and all the other Highlands provinces are going through a very severe drought at the moment - has that impacted on you guys?
LJ: No it hasn't impacted on us. We can see the effects of it. There's definitely an effect to their crops, the local crops around here. We get quite a bit of rain up here in the mountains so there's a bit of water here. It's just the distribution of it, because a lot of the villages don't actually have water storage within them. And I think a lot of the deaths in some of the other provinces have been caused by water contamination.
DW: The road, it's going to be a gravel road, but it's going to be a key road because it will work as another option to the Highlands Highway. There are not that many roads in Papua New Guinea as it is. So it's pretty significant, isn't it?
LJ: Yes, absolutely. We drive past up towards 50 different villages into the way back into Mount Hagen and we've done a bit of a recon further down the road and we have come across some random villages in the middle of nowhere that the road is trying to link up. 350kilometres - it is going to link up, over 100 to 200 villages. We have flown over the top of them actually with a helicopter a couple of weeks ago up to where it's going to join up to the other side of Madang. A very significant road, and a lot of people, key resources in Mount Hagen and Madang city.
DW: How long will it take to take to finish?
LJ: How long is a piece of string, really? I think, as we call New Zealand the land of the long white cloud, over here in Papua New Guinea they call it 'the land of the unexpected'. So at the moment they are going through that to their dry season and it means they have had big improvements on the road. But then when wet season comes it sort of sends them back a couple of steps as well. They will reach the Jimi River by mid next year and the next phase of it from ... River up into the Bismarck Range, that's another couple of years away. They will be lucky to get it done within the next five years.
DW: The New Zealand Defence Force involvement carries on for how long?
LJ: We are committed up until 2016 so we will hopefully see another team in some shape or form in 2016. It would be nice them at least to reach Jimi River and then the PNG Defence Force will be able to hand that road over to their Department of Works. So that will be a huge relief for their Defence Force. So at the moment, hopefully one more rotation over here.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: