By Eleanor Maineke
Bougainville’s southern region is connected by the road link that runs from Arawa in Central Bougainville via Panguna and through Bana, Siwai and Buin or via the Arawa-Aropa, Buin, Siwai and Bana route.
The two paths are known for their treacherous wet crossings and are regarded as vital by the population in the South to access most basic services in Arawa and Buka, such as banking facilities.
For public servants, access to Buka is vital to meet with departmental heads in Buka, especially health, education and the House of Assembly for the government in Kubu.
On the 16 of March 2016, the shortest route to Siwai, via Panguna, was blocked at Pikei village of Bana district. The blockade was due to an unsettled case between the law enforcers and a family who lost their son at the hands of the police some months ago.
The case was pending a hearing and it was being prolonged for reasons are unclear. In their frustration the relatives deceased of the deceased hijacked a vehicle belonging to the BABA (Banoni-Baitsi) Council of Elders level of government. The hijack led to the people of Pikei village to block the main highway with the cutting of a huge rain tree that fell across the road.
The blockade greatly affected the public motor vehicle (PMV) services from Siwai to Arawa. The only option left to reach Siwai was via Aropa-Buin highway which is a 3-4 hour drive through a number of wet crossings.
There was an interview consultation scheduled by the Bougainville Peace Building Program (BPBP) in Siwai on the 16 and 17 March, so the team travelled via the Buin route and reached Buin town around 6pm.
Five minutes’ drive away from Buin town towards Siwai, the trip was hindered by the flooded Siripai River. The river runs down from the mountains of Buin and it is the river that was identified as the river to generate hydro-electricity to the southern region of Bougainville, with a baseline study was said to be conducted in 2014.
When the BPBP team travelling to Siwai arrived, there was already a ten-seater landcrusier locked on a rock in the middle of the river. As the driver and the passengers were trying to push the vehicle off the rock, the flood rose with a much stronger current that eventually pulled off the vehicle’s bonnet and turned over the vehicle.
There was nothing much to be done just to watch the vehicle trapped, overturned by the flood. Vehicles were on both sides stranded by the flood. The PMV’s travelling from Arawa to Siwai waited till the flood went down and crossed the flood at around 10pm.
Due to concerns for the security and safety of the BPBP team, they drove back to Buin town and slept there. That was the safest decision because the Siripai River was just one of the many rivers that laid away in the Buin-Siwai highway.
The accident that occurred on the 16th of March by the nature of Siripai River was not the first in the southern part of Bougainville. Many vehicles and people have been victims of the wet crossings and floods.
The road conditions and the big rivers in the south are significant issues to the people of Bougainville, especially South Bougainville. There is a need for bridges and fixing the road conditions in the area for proper accessibility and for people’s safety and security.