Support ongoing for PNG landslide survivors

Mounting challenges remain for the authorities and humanitarian groups supporting survivors, including women and children disproportionately, affected by the Papua New Guinea deadly landslide.

Two weeks on from the Yambali village landslide in Enga Province, humanitarian assistance is still being hampered by lack of road access, tension between tribes and new evacuation orders.

Despite authorities ending the recovery for bodies and health officials deeming it unsafe due risk of contamination and disease, some locals have ignored warnings and have continued their desperate search.

At least 670 people are now deemed missing persons.

There is still no official figure for the number of deaths from the landslide but the latest update has come down from more than 2000 people originally provided by the PNG government.

However, the UNDP has said aid groups are directly supporting 1650 internally displaced people.

Close to 8000 people from two communities in the area have been affected, UN Humanitarian Affairs specialist & advisor Mate Bagossy said.

Humanitarian organisation CARE said many challenges remain including a lack of road access, increasing tribal tension, and a 72-hour evacuation order issued by local government this week.

Poor road conditions have meant some surrounding villages have also been cut off, and those people are also in need of assistance according to aid groups.

“It seems re-opening the road is not safe. So the back road will need to be opened. The original road could be declared a burial site,” Bagossy said.

World Vision, UNICEF, CARE and the UN are supporting relief efforts in the affected areas of Yambali Ward where the landslide occurred.

CARE is conducting a Rapid Gender Assessment to understand the specific needs of women and girls affected by the disaster.

The group is also preparing to deliver water, sanitation and hygiene support and dedicated safe spaces for children left traumatised by the landslide and its aftermath.

Aid groups have also expressed concern for pregnant women and children disproportionately affected.

“Women affected by the landslide tell us they have no spare clothes or food. It’s beginning to get very cold in the Highlands. Monsoon season, bringing rain with it, is also about to begin,” CARE program director PNG, Doreen Fernando said.

Humanitarian groups are also caring for dozens of children and orphans affected by the Papua New Guinea landslide.

“Many mothers have been telling us their children are beginning to fall sick. There’s also been a diarrhoea outbreak due to lack of sanitation and hygiene options,” Fernando said.

UNICEF PNG representative Angela Kearney told Morning Report they have set up a special tent just for children to play.

“We set up a child friendly space they can dance, sing, play, paint. We have trained volunteers. There is absolute sorrow and sadness in children’s faces. With partnerships with government and NGO’s we will help them.”

The evacuation order is displacing people onto neighbouring lands which is fuelling pre-existing tribal tensions in the region.

“We have a situation where people have been told that it isn’t safe to stay where they are, and that the landslide could continue down the mountain. But they don’t have anywhere to move to” Fernando said.

Kearney said, it was hard for people to leave the site because “there’s a lot of trauma and emotional drawbacks to be close to where their loved ones are.”

New Zealand, Australia support

New Zealand and Australia have also provided NZ$4 million combined in funding support and sent disaster response specialists to assist.

“Australia stands with the people of Papua New Guinea,” Australia Minister for Foreign Affairs, Penny Wong said.

Earlier this week, New Zealand Geotech experts in Papua New Guinea advised for the immediate evacuation of a group of people at risk of another landslide and deemed the site a “no-go zone.”

“The land in Yambali Ward is still unstable, which means that we can’t set up a base on site, and instead our aid trucks have to travel a 5-hour round trip every day, through poor road conditions, from our base in the Enga Capital, Wabag,” Fernando said.

NZ Fire and Emergency’s deployment ends

Meanwhile, a team of six Urban Search and Rescue specialists from Fire and Emergency NZ was deployed last week to make geotechnical assessments of the landslide site and surrounding area.

Their work included hazard and risk mapping and the team worked closely with GNS scientists in New Zealand during their deployment, as as part of an MFAT-led mission at the request of Papua New Guinea’s government.

Fire and Emergency national commander Russell Wood said the team had completed its mission and reported its findings to the provincial administration.

Wood said they sent an experienced team of technical specialists to carry out a specific task that the authorities in Papua New Guinea requested following the landslide.

The team will return to New Zealand today (Friday).

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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