By Ilya Gridneff (See also Iilya’s Blog, “Papua News Guinea“)
Kokoda Track porters are being forced to carry dangerously heavy loads and are being treated like “camels” as they help trekkers on the 96km walk, locals say.
Efogi village councillor Willy Vavi raised the concern on Tuesday when former Sydney Olympic organiser Sandy Hollway, who heads the Australian government’s Kokoda taskforce, inspected his village.
Vavi told Hollway’s delegation that some operators are forcing porters to carry unsafe loads when helping the nearly 6,000 trekkers who walk the iconic World War II track every year.
“Some are being treated like camels, we’ve weighed their bags after four, five days walk and the weight is still 40-50 kg,” he said.
“There are quite a few injuries from carrying too much weight and some trek operators are not doing food drops so they are carrying their heavy load all the way,” he said.
Hollway’s delegation was visiting Efogi to inspect its improved health and education centres.
Vavi said local communities were thankful for the Australian support but a broader scope for other track villages was needed.
“The Kokoda Track is 96km, so if efforts start in Efogi it has to be across the board at the same time in order for every community to benefit,” he said.
In May this year, angry Kovelo villagers, at Kokoda’s south end, blocked the track in protest over lack of development.
“I feel sorry for the Kovelo people, that’s why I said the program has to start everywhere.
“The school there is like a chicken shed so that is part of their complaint.”
Hollway said these concerns were being addressed, industry standards were being raised and the Kokoda Track Authority, based in Port Moresby, was better administering funds to all villages.
“It’s terrific to see how well the Efogi health centre is going,” he said.
Australia helped Kokoda Track villages as they helped us during World War II, he said.
“The battlefields in northern France, Gallipoli and certainly Kokoda, I think we have historical obligations to these people in particular,” he said.
Efogi and nearby Manari village developments were part of Australia’s $14.5 million commitment to protect the iconic wartime trail, he said.
© 2009 AAP
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