Since 28 March, 40,500 earthquake-affected people, have also been affected by the tribal conflict which resulted in the suspension of humanitarian operations in Hela province.
In response to the ongoing measles and other vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks, UNICEF and partners have commenced social mobilization and community engagement activities in two districts of Mendi-Munihu and Nipa Kutubu; culminating to the start of an integrated vaccination campaign on 30 April against measles and rubella (MR) and maternal tetanus.
59 teachers and volunteers received orientation and signed Code of Conduct on Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA). The training participants also learned about prevention of violence against children, understanding psychosocial impact of disasters, and providing psychosocial support.
UNICEF’s provisional funding requirement for the earthquake response in 2018 is $13.8 million and the current funding gap stands at 78 per cent.
Situation Overview and Humanitarian Needs
On 26 February 2018, Papua New Guinea was struck by a 7.5 magnitude earthquake – the first of several major quakes of 6.0 or greater magnitude and more than 190 ongoing tremors to shake the country. The earthquakes caused devastating landslides and widespread destruction across the four provinces of Hela, Southern Highlands, Western Province and Enga. Families lost their homes, water sources, health facilities and the subsistence family farms/gardens they relied on for food. According to the inter-agency Disaster Management Team (DMT) response plan, 544,000 people (with 46 percent children under 18) were affected and need humanitarian assistance. An estimated 270,000 people, including 125,000 children are in immediate need of life-saving assistance.
Since 28 March, due to inter-communal fighting, humanitarian operations in Tari (Hela Province) have been suspended. According to preliminary UN estimates, 40,500 people (48 per cent females) in nineteen earthquake-affected villages have been affected.
Access to clean water, food, sanitation, nutrition and health services remain immediate concerns. The latest available data from the Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) shows that over 11,000 households (approximately 55,200 people) remain displaced due to the earthquake. The displaced people are residing in informal communal shelters without adequate water and sanitation facilities. Out of 86 health facilities in Hela and Southern Highlands Provinces, seven in Hela and 11 in Southern Highlands are severely damaged, and 26 and 21 respectively have no water. Most of the health facilities in the affected areas are now open but are not fully operational due to damages and because many of the health workers, who were affected by the earthquake, themselves require assistance. Some centres also close from time to time due to surrounding conflict.
Most of the rainwater collection systems were severely damaged and water in open streams is now a common source, which is mostly contaminated. Health facilities are reporting an increasing number of acute watery diarrhoea cases attributed to lack of access to clean drinking water and hygiene. Low immunization coverage and malnutrition existed prior to the earthquake, with several provinces in the highlands region already facing malaria and measles outbreaks. The situation has further deteriorated after the earthquake, with a high risk of water-borne and vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks and increased malnutrition, if the emergency response is not urgently scaled up.
Half of the children under five years are stunted and some 15 per cent are ‘wasted’ (HIES, 2009/2010). There is a preexisting national average SAM case load of 2.6 per cent. A Nutrition in Emergency (NiE) response conducted between May-October 2016 following the El Nino drought in four LLGs including Upper Wage LLG, Wage Rural LLG, Kandep LLG, Pilikambi Rural LLG determined that 4 per cent of nearly 20,000 children screened were identified as and treated for SAM. There are currently no programmes for moderate acute malnutrition in PNG, which further adds to a deterioration in the nutrition situation of children in the affected areas. Limited capacity of implementing partners on the ground adds to these challenges. Scaling-up of life-saving nutrition services and building the capacity of implementing partners is one of UNICEF’s key priorities.
The Department of Education conducted a preliminary assessment of 195 schools out of total 1,219 (16 per cent) in the affected areas and found 100 schools (51 per cent) are partially damaged, and five (3 per cent) are completely damaged. The damages to school infrastructure include classrooms, toilets, teacher’s houses and teaching and learning equipment. However, this might not be a representative sample and the true extent of damages is not yet known. Based on this preliminary assessment, over 15,000 children and their teachers need support to resume classes as normal. Most of the partially damaged schools have now re-opened but not all children have returned due to continuing aftershocks and fears that the buildings are not safe.
In some villages, families continue to sleep outside their houses or temporary shelters due to fear for their lives and further destruction by earthquakes and aftershocks. Some families will not be able to return to their villages, because of the complete destruction of their homes by landslides. One coping strategy has been to send family members to the homes of various relatives, which often results in children being separated from their parents or other caregivers they are accustomed to. Consequently, children suffer increased stress and trauma, which could pose long-term negative impacts on their development, learning and well-being.
Access to the affected areas is a huge challenge due to lack of roads and ongoing conflict. Given this context, so far, no comprehensive needs assessments have been able to be carried out and therefore availability of reliable information for humanitarian programming is limited. To address this information gap, UNICEF has been focussing on increasing its field presence to reach the most difficult areas and engaging with the local institutions to better assess the most urgent needs. The Resident Coordinator’s Office has asked the clusters to be present in the affected areas and make sure information sharing on the situation and needs is improved.