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Wutung villagers could face food starvation if the ban to cross border prolongs

Wutung villagers at the northern border in West Sepik are likely to face challenges in sourcing food as a result of the closure of the Wutung border post due to the onset of the Coronavirus.

Their village land for gardening and settlement also extend beyond the internationally recognised border line, past commonly known Batas into Indonesia and the stop disrupts their daily routine to gather food.

Village councilor Ray Tanzy said yesterday 60 per cent of the villagers were likely to be affected.

Wutung villager Richard Mewi said the indefinite closure could likely cause them starvation.

When the border post was closed on Monday, he was working at a logging site past the border post near Tami River, he had to scramble through the jungle and sneak into Wutung.

“Mi nid long kam long ples ya,” he said.

(I needed to be back in the village)

Councilor Tanzy said an inter-agency group from West Sepik met with the villagers Monday and explained to them what the Coronavirus is, the symptoms and what the precautionary approach to preventing it with a tentative closure of the border post to be for a week.

He said there was no one at the border post except the Papua New Guinea Defence Force members but for the villagers, they hope the indefinite closure did not prolong.

Tanzy said the side effects could be grappling as they look for supplements to their usual organic greens and vegetables with whatever cash they have might run out when they have to pay K20 return transport to Vanimo for shopping.

He clarified though there was land into Papua New Guinea as well, some clans and families do not own them and their rights were limited.

Tanzy said, apart from food the villagers’ water supply used for washing and laundry is located on the Indonesian side of the border and this would be a challenge for them.

The government departments comprising police, NAQIA, West Sepik Provincial Health Authority, the PNG Defence Force and border liaison officers would report back to them Monday and the village of over a thousand people hopes the ban is lifted soon.

For now they concur, precaution was better than cure in the wake of the Coronavirus.