Efforts to Assess Impact of Papua New Guinea Earthquake

Almost three weeks after the 7.5 magnitude earthquake that struck Papua New Guinea’s remote provinces of Hela and Southern Highlands, IOM teams are working with the government and partners to assess the full impact of the disaster and deliver essential lifesaving aid to survivors, even as landslides and aftershocks continue to affect the region.

The government estimates that over 544,000 people across five provinces were affected by the quake, which left at least 145 people dead. Over 270,000 are in need of immediate aid, including food, water, medicines, tarpaulins, tents and blankets.

The government and its aid agency and private sector partners have targeted seven of the worst-hit Local Level Governments (LLGs) in Hela and Southern Highlands provinces. It has also set up two forward operating bases and two emergency operations centres close to the quake’s epicentre.

But while main roads have largely been cleared, aid workers warn that damage estimates may continue to rise as many affected communities remain cut off by landslides and are only accessible by air.

“Many among the affected populations live in remote communities that are a challenge to access at the best of times.  In the face of a natural disaster of this magnitude, they have become even more isolated.  Air support to reach these people is critical,” said IOM Papua New Guinea Chief of Mission Lance Bonneau.

IOM, which is leading the Shelter, Non-Food Item (NFI), and Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) clusters in the emergency response, has deployed displacement tracking teams, assisted by oil and gas company ExxonMobil and other local partners on the ground, to assess the impact, needs, and assistance gaps for people affected by the quake.

The mapping generated by the displacement tracking matrix (DTM) will contribute to the PNG National Disaster Center’s coordination of the multi-partner relief effort to ensure that the right assistance gets to the populations who need it most. 

IOM, which this week received USD 100,000 from USAID’s Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance, has already delivered basic shelter and non-food relief items to over 400 displaced families. The US funding will allow it to provide basic shelter, water and sanitation to another 800 of the hardest hit families and will also support training for local authorities and NGOs managing Care Centre shelters for quake survivors.

Another USD 100,000 channeled to IOM last week by UNOCHA – the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – will be used to provide more lifesaving aid, including shelter materials and water containers, to another 2,500 families.

“We welcome the support provided thus far, but the needs remain significant.  The full impact of the earthquake is still coming to light, as landslides continue to affect unstable areas. Traditional water and food sources have been compromised and entire populations have been traumatized by the scale of this disaster. We need to continue to address the immediate needs of those most affected, but we also need to think about longer term recovery and reestablishment of community infrastructure.  Shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene are critical needs now and will continue to be into the foreseeable future,” said Bonneau.

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