Papua New Guinea: Highlands Earthquake Situation Report No. 3 (as of 17 March 2018)


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 15 March to 17 March 2018. The next report will be issued on or around 20 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 remain food, water, shelter, and health.

  • An estimated 143,127 people have been rendered food insecure due to landslides destroying food gardens. To date, responding partners have reached around 56,000 people in Southern Highlands and Hela provinces.

  • Many health facilities have been damaged or destroyed. In Hela and Southern Highlands provinces, of all health facilities (not including aid posts) 32% are closed. Of those that are open, 68% are damaged.

  • The National Department of Health and partners, conducting water quality assessments in Southern Highlands Province and downstream in Gulf Province.

  • Logistics remains a critical issue with more roads being cleared but many areas still on accessible by air assets.

544,368 affected people

270,442 people in need of assistance

18,200 displaced in 26 informal care centres

32% health facilities closed

68% open health facilities damaged

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. of the 270,000, 125,000 are children (of which 55,000 under age five). 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 LLGs 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.

Currently, households are living in clans within the care centres (health facility, schools, churches and airfields). While estimates are difficult given the nomadic nature of the population and the fluctuations between night and day populations in the care centres, displacement tracking has recorded approximately 18,200 people displaced and staying in 26 informal care centres, though thousands more are staying in centres that have not been mapped, or with families and host communities. Displaced communities and households have restricted movement and access to available services due to fear of their tribal enemies. Around 54,260 households are damaged and in need of shelter assistance, but teams are on the ground to provide updated information on the full scale of needs.

An estimated 143,127 people (74,426 male, 68,701 female) have been rendered food insecure by the earthquake due to landslides destroying food gardens. The latest mVAM report indicates that up to 64,070 people were experiencing extreme food insecurity before the earthquake. Food stocks are reportedly rapidly depleting. While there has not be high increases reported in malnutrition in children, without immediate food assistance this is likely to rise quickly. To date, responding partners have reached 55, 987 people in Southern Highlands and Hela provinces with food assistance and remains a priority need.

Many health facilities have been damaged, some significantly, while many more remain inaccessible. In Hela Province, of the 31 health facilities (not including aid posts), 19 are open, 10 are closed and two are unknown. Of those open, five are severely damaged, two moderately damaged and 12 have minor damage. In Southern Highlands Province, of the 46 health facilities (not including aid posts), 25 are open, 15 are closed and six are unknown. Of those open, two are moderately damaged and nine have minor damage. Many of the health facilities remain without water and electricity. In Southern Highlands Province, the main referral hospital in Mendi is functioning, but the operating theatre is not as the anesthesia machine was damaged. Oil Search Foundation will procure an anesthesia machine for Mendi hospital. In addition to health facility damage there is a lack of healthcare staff to work in those facilities that are still functioning, as many have been affected. The National Department of Health (NDoH) has sent in two medical teams to Tari and Mendi. Both Hela and Southern Highlands provinces are setting up emergency operational centres and surveillance systems, with the support of WHO, to support the health response at the provincial level. The NDoH is finalizing its health response plan and to date the Government has allocated PGK4 million (US$1.25 million) to the emergency health response.

Traditional sources of water have been interrupted. There are report that in many areas people have been collecting water from creeks, which have been affected by landslides and debris, making the water unsafe. With no access to safe and clean water, water-borne disease outbreaks, such as diarrhoea, already among the principal causes of under-5 mortality, are most likely to occur. In some areas, rivers have been blocked by landslides and are creating temporary dams, which reduces waterflow to downstream areas and presents a flood risk if they overflow. 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.

Schools in Hela Province remain closed. In Southern Highlands Province, according to the Bishop of Catholic Diocese in Mendi, all schools in Mendi are running but there is currently limited information on whether schools are open outside of Mendi. There are ongoing assessments assessing the structural damage to schools in the affected areas.

According to Protection partners, trauma counselling and psychosocial support is needed for approximately 143,127 persons in the affected areas. A joint Government-NGO supported trauma and crisis counselling toll-free hotline continues to receive calls from the affected areas. To date, many of the calls have come from Southern Highlands Province (particularly Mendi), as well as Hela (Komo Magarima and Tari) and Enga provinces. Many of the calls relate to fear of aftershocks or another major earthquake occurring, people need assistance but have not been reached, distress due to loss of property, concern for relatives and general confusion about the cause of the earthquake. Targeted promotions for the hotline offering toll-free trauma counselling has commenced via SMS and radio. A Communicating with Communities Working Group has been established to mainstream messages and ensure participation and consultation of affected populations in response efforts. Public services announcements have been developed and translated into Tok-Pisin covering areas of child protection, nutrition and health, which will be broadcast on both national and local radio networks. Plans are underway to translate into other languages, such as Huli.

Government has cleared the main Highlands Highway connecting Western Highlands, Southern Highlands, and Hela provinces. However, several roads linking to the highway remain impassable. Fixed and rotary wings assets from the Australian and New Zealand Defence Forces are being phased out in the coming week, significantly reducing the availability of assets to access remote communities for distributions that cannot be reached by road.

Key road links from Mt Hagen to Tari and Mendi are reportedly trafficable for container trucks. Road access from Mendi to Tari has been restored but only small vehicles have been able to get through. There is no road access to Komo in Hela Province and the road between Nipa and Margarima (Hela Province) is not passable for vehicles over 10 MT. No major security incidents have been reported to date, although many affected areas have a history of tribal conflict and volatility. Papua New Guinea Police have set up two command centres in Tari and Mendi to monitor reports and coordinate relief efforts.


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