A 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck on 26 February (25 February UTC), with its epicentre in Nipa-Kutubu district, Southern Highlands province. The affected area is sparsely populated, with a dispersed population living in remote, rural communities. There are no major urban areas in the immediate vicinity although there is a gas pipeline in the area. There were some minor landslides following the earthquake, but as of 26 February no damage to infrastructure or homes has been reported. (OCHA, 26 Feb 2018)
At 15.17 UTC on 26 February 2018, a major aftershock with a magnitude of 6.2 M occurred in the Southern Highlands province close to the location of the 7.5 M earthquake of 25 February. According to media, as of 27 February, at least 30 people have been killed and 300 have been injured, several houses have been buried due to landslides in the worst affected areas of Hela and Southern Highlands provinces. The search and rescue operations are still ongoing and the death toll is expected to rise. For the time being, local authorities have not requested international support. (ECHO, 27 Feb 2018)
On 1 Mar, an immediate State of Emergency has been declared for Highlands Earthquake Disaster areas in Hela, Southern Highlands, Western and Enga Provinces to expedite the restoration of essential public services. PNG government approved K450 million for relief operations and to restore services, as well as the formation of an Emergency Disaster Restoration Team and the Establishment of a Restoration Authority to manage long-term reconstruction efforts over a 4-year period. (Govt. PNG, 1 Mar 2018)
Aerial assessments have shown significant damage and large landslides, and it is estimated that up to 465,000 people may have been affected by the disaster. An estimated 247,000 people are likely to require immediate assistance. Water is reported to be scarce in affected areas due to damage to storage facilities and water sources. One of the main health facilities in the affected area, Mendi hospital, is reportedly experiencing disruption to both water and power supplies. (OCHA, 5 Mar 2018)
A strong aftershock with a magnitude of 6.7 M at a depth of 10 km occurred in the Western province on 6 March at 14.13 UTC, approximately 30 km south-east of the major 7.5 M earthquake of 25 February. According to media, as of 7 March at 8.00 UTC, at least 18 people have been killed by the 6.7 M earthquake (ECHO, 7 Mar 2018).
The Government, private companies and humanitarian partners have focused initial relief efforts on communities in the worst-hit seven LLGs in Hela and Southern Highlands provinces. Private companies and bilateral partners, including Australia, Japan and New Zealand, play a critical role in the early phase of the response. They work closely with UN agencies, NGOs, CSO, FBOs and the Red Cross. Humanitarian partners have provided food to over 34,400 people in Nipa Kutubu LLG and Komo Magarima LLG. Up to 54,260 households are estimated to be in need of emergency shelter. To date, 100 households in Mount Bosavi LLG and another 100 households in Para/Moro have received shelter equipment. (PNG Disaster Management Team, 11 Mar 2018).
On 27 March 2018, the Parliament passed two bills formalizing the State of Emergency in earthquake-affected areas and establishing a Restoration Authority for the affected provinces. The first bill formalised the State of Emergency initially declared by Prime Minister on 2 March 2018, while the second establishes the WESH Restoration Authority, covering Western, Enga, Southern Highlands, and Hela, as well as parts of West Sepik and Gulf provinces...On 28 March, the Disaster Management Team (DMT) issued its initial earthquake response plan, which focuses on providing life-saving assistance and helping to re-establish basic services for 270,000 people in need of immediate assistance due to the 26 February 2018 earthquake and subsequent aftershocks and landslides...It calls for US$ 62 million to support urgent action in seven areas, including Food Security; Health and Nutrition; Water, Sanitation and Hygiene; Shelter; Protection; Education; and Logistics Coordination. (PNG Disaster Management Team, 29 Mar 2018)
Humanitarian operations in and around Tari, provincial capital of Hela province, have been suspended due to the rise in tension and outbreak of inter-communal fighting since 28 March. US$ 43 million has been mobilized from the private sector for earthquake response and recovery, primarily as contributions to government efforts. (PNG Disaster Management Team, 5 Apr 2018)
Following a 7.5 magnitude earthquake which hit the Highlands Region of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and affected an estimated 544,000 people in five provinces, assessment teams visited 38 displacement sites in the Hela, Southern Highlands and Western Provinces of PNG between 10–27 March 2018. Data was collected from key informants including councilors, village leaders, church leaders, teachers and healthcare workers.
The assessments showed that the most urgent needs of the displaced populations were water and shelter first and foremost, as well as kitchen utensils and food. Displacement sites such as Lau, Timu and Levani located in Hela Province are extremely isolated and were identified to be in urgent need of food rations following the destruction of food gardens and the limited food supply available. Many of the affected populations also suffer from continued trauma as aftershocks of the earthquake continue to hit the region. (IOM, 20 Apr 2018)
The key social infrastructure assessment, primarily focusing on health and education facilities, concluded that total estimated cost of rehabilitating in Hela, Southern Highlands and Western provinces is approximately USD 105 million. Result of a mobile Vulnerability Assessment Mapping (mVAM) survey, conducted during 22 March to 12 April 2018, indicated that 14 per cent of 1,534 households contacted in affected areas were displaced. Nine of 31 households in Local Level Governments (LLGs) surveyed experienced high or extreme food shortages, with the destruction of food gardens in these areas removing the main livelihood and food supply source for the majority of people. (Govt. PNG, OCHA & UN CT PNG, 7 May 2018)
As of 28 May 2018, 11,761 households (approximately 58,300 people) remain displaced, of which 1,672 households are staying in eleven care centres while 10,089 households are staying with host communities according to the latest figures available from the Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM). Due to restricted humanitarian access, an operational planning group for land-based relief activities in Hela province was established on 16 May. The group is working closely with the PNG Government to identify down-scaled permissible locations based on latest information of the security situation in Hela province. Land-based relief operations in Hela are expected to resume incrementally from early June. (Govt. PNG, OCHA & UN CT PNG, 28 May 2018)
The access to remote locations and communication remains a significant challenge faced by all actors. As violent clashes in some communities are frequent, the restriction of movement has delayed, or prevented, aid from reaching certain locations. As of 29 May, humanitarian organizations temporarily have suspended operations in Hela province due to several security incidents. Serious security concerns in some areas continue to hamper intervention. (IFRC, 29 May 2018).
Earthquake response activities in the Southern Highlands Province have been suspended after an outbreak of violence in the provincial capital, Mendi. Following the result of a national court decision to dismiss an election petition in favour of the incumbent Governor, protestors attacked multiple public and private buildings. On 14 June, the PNG Prime Minister declared a State of Emergency in Southern Highlands Province. Relief activities in areas of the Southern Highlands Province not affected by the violence are ongoing. (OCHA, 18 Jun 2018)