Papua New Guinea: Volcanic Activity - Office of the Resident Coordinator Flash Update No. 5 (As of 12 July 2019)

Report
from UN Country Team in Papua New Guinea
Published on 12 Jul 2019

This update is produced by Office of the Resident Coordinator in Papua New Guinea in collaboration with humanitarian partners. It covers the period from 18:00 05 July to 18:00 12 July 2019 (GMT +10). The next report will be issued if there are new developments or significant changes in the situation.

HIGHLIGHTS

• On 26 June, the Ulawun volcano in West New Britain erupted. The eruption ceased after 24 hours.

• Gaps remain in addressing evacuees’ needs at care centres, including sanitation and hygiene. Disease outbreaks remain a concern.

• A preliminary assessment from the Rabaul Volcanological Observatory indicates people in East New Britain may return home, while those in West New Britain sites may be able to return home in a week’s time.

• On 28 June, the Manam volcano in Madang began actively emitting volcanic ash and superheated pyroclastic flows to the west and northeast slopes of the volcano.

• The PNG Government has sent a barge with relief items and Defence Force preventative health and medical teams to Manam island.

SITUATION OVERVIEW

Mt Ulawun Volcanic Activity

The Rabaul Volcanological Observatory’s (RVO) preliminary assessment indicates that people evacuated in East New Britain Province may return home immediately, while those evacuated in West New Britain Province may be able to return home in a week’s time. The alert level remains at 1, indicating a low threat to life. However, continued low-level volcanic tremors suggest the magma system below the volcano remains active. RVO continues to monitor seismic activity and volcanic tremors.

The greatest impact caused by ash and scoria fall appears to be a swath on the west side of the volcano extending to the coast where vegetation, mostly palm oil plants, has browned. Except for a 6-kilometre pyroclastic flow on the northern slope and a 7-kilometre pyroclastic flow along the southeast slope, the rest of the area around the volcano, accounting for 80 per cent, were minimally affected. Sulphur dioxide levels measured on 4 and 7 July showed low flux levels (100 tonnes/day).

West New Britain provincial authorities have downgraded the State of Emergency on 12 July, noting that it would be scaling down operations and officers would be returning to their normal duties.

Gaps remain in addressing evacuees’ needs at care centres, apart from food. In addition to personal hygiene, especially for women and young children, a major concern remains the risk of disease outbreaks due to a lack of access to water, poor sanitation and hygiene conditions, and general living conditions at the care centres and other evacuation sites. The care centres have been well covered for measles, rubella, and oral polio vaccine immunization. However, provincial health activities in Bialla and Ulamona villages are slow. The Navo clinic inside the Hargy plantation remains closed. Strengthened surveillance in the eruption-affected areas documented 96 reported health-related cases between 4 and 7 July. Sores and skin infections ranked first, followed by malaria, diarrhoea and cough.

The West New Britain public health authorities are assessing a suspected diarrhoea outbreak around Ulamona and Bialla. Digging of latrines has begun at some evacuation sites, but more efforts are needed to prevent the spread of certain communicable diseases, as people defecate mostly in the open or in nearby rivers and streams. Hygiene kits are urgently needed at most sites. Basic hygiene education and awareness must be stepped up. The Health Cluster has identified shortages of basic drugs and medical supplies in the existing health posts and recommends restocking of those referral centres with health kits rather than loose items and boxes of basic drugs.

Manam Island Volcanic Activity

Manam volcano continues to emit volcanic ash. An eruption at 11:40 a.m. (UTC+10) on 12 July sent a plume of volcanic ash to approximately 3,660 metres (12,000 feet) in the air, according to a Darwin, Australia, Volcanic Ash Advisory. An estimated 1,410 people from seven villages on the island remain affected. Disaster authorities have identified immediate needs for food and water, noting the only available water sources currently available to be muddy or brackish.