Papua New Guinea: Highlands Earthquake Situation Report No. 2 (as of 14 March 2018)

Situation Report
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This report is produced by the National Disaster Centre, the Office of the Resident Coordinator and the United Nations Coordination and Assessment (UNDAC) Team in collaboration with humanitarian partners. It was issued by the Disaster Management Team Secretariat. It covers the period from 10 March to 14 March 2018. The next report will be issued on or around 16 March 2018.


  • According to initial estimates, over 544,000 people are affected across the five most affected provinces. Over 270,000 people require immediate humanitarian assistance.

  • Priority needs include medicine, tarpaulins and tents, blankets, food, and water.

  • The Government, private companies and humanitarian partners have focused initial relief efforts on communities in the worst-hit seven Local Level Government (LLGs) in Hela and Southern Highlands provinces.

  • Main roads linking Hela and Southern Highlands provinces have been cleared, but many communities can only be reached with air assets.

  • The Government has established Forward Operating Bases in Mt. Hagen and Moro, as well as Emergency Operations Centres in Mendi and Tari.

544,368 affected people

270,442 people in need of assistance

18,200 displaced in 26 informal care centres

7 LLGs prioritized for urgent assistance

Situation Overview

The National Disaster Centre (NDC) estimates that around 544,000 people have been affected in five provinces and that more than 270,000 people are in immediate need of assistance. According to the Government, the death toll has reached more than 100 people. Reports from provincial disaster offices confirm 37 deaths in Southern Highlands Province, mostly in the Mendi area due to landslides and collapsing walls, over 300 injured people. The Western Provincial Disaster Office has confirmed 13 people killed, three injured and another three missing. Many reports of casualties across the affected provinces remain to be confirmed. The full impact is likely to remain unclear as many areas remain difficult to reach.

Based on preliminary estimates, earthquake intensity mapping and assessment data, the Government has prioritized:

  • 37,689 people most severely affected and in need of immediate assistance in 7 LLGs1 in Hela and Southern Highlands provinces;

  • 232,753 people affected and needing assistance in Hela and Southern Highlands and some areas in Western Province; and

  • 273,926 people affected covering remaining areas in Hela, Southern Highlands, and many communities in Western and Enga provinces.

Many locals are traumatized and afraid of returning to their homes, and staying in informal care centres or with family or community members. Displacement tracking has been rolled out in the 7 most affected LLGs to assist in identifying the needs of the displaced communities. Currently, households are living in clans within the care centres (health facility, schools, churches and host communities). While estimates are difficult given the nomadic nature of the population and the fluctuations between night and day populations in the care centres, approximately 18,200 people are displaced and staying in informal care centres, with thousands more staying with families and host communities. Data collected from Komo-Magarima District’s, Hides 4 in Komo LLG, Timu and Lau in Hulia Beneria LLG show that there is an estimated total of 7,000 displaced persons with the majority being women - Hides 4 (63%) and Timu (55%), and there are more males (54%) than females in Lau. Displaced communities and households have restricted movement and access to available services due to fear of their tribal enemies.

A number of health facilities have been damaged, some significantly, while many more remain inaccessible. According to the Hela Provincial Health Authority, there are 34 operational health facilities in Hela comprising Tari provincial hospital, 4 health centres and 29 sub-health centres. In Southern Highlands Province, the main referral hospital is functioning, but the operating theatre is not functioning as the anesthesia machine was damaged in the earthquake. In addition to health facility damage and destruction, many health workers have lost their homes, including on-site accommodation at the Mendi hospital and staff accommodation at most health centres in Hela Province. Across both provinces, water systems and cold chain in health facilities are damaged or destroyed, including tanks, pumps, power systems, and refrigeration systems for vaccines. Surveillance systems are not functional, leaving the population highly vulnerable to outbreak risks.

The principle water sources for people in the highlands before the earthquake had been surface water and rainwater collection systems. Many of the water sources have been affected and/or depleted by the earthquakes. Rainwater collection systems have been damaged or destroyed. With no access to safe and clean water, waterborne disease outbreaks, such as diarrhoea, already among the principal causes of under-5 mortality, are most likely to occur. This risk is further compounded by the destruction of sanitation facilities and unsafe hygiene practices. Open defecation in rural communities is widespread. The National Department of Health, supported by partners, are conducting water quality assessments of water sources in Southern Highlands Province and downstream locations in Gulf Province.

Partners are scaling up humanitarian relief efforts and are gaining access to more communities, although there are still unmet needs in many areas. The remoteness and access constraints create logistical challenges and while no major security incidents have been reported, many affected areas have a history of tribal conflict and volatility. To date, most of the main road linking Hela and Southern Highlands provinces have been cleared allowing vehicles carrying relief supplies to pass. Some roads remain blocked with ongoing construction work, but should be opened in the coming week. Due to the ongoing seismic activity and rain, contractors are assigned to station at certain points of the main roads to monitor and clear the roads to allow an uninterrupted flow of vehicles. Remote locations with no road access are still being reached by fixed and rotary wing assets.

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