Papua New Guinea‘s emergency controller says the response to February‘s Highlands earthquake is mostly shifting focus from relief to recovery.
The magnitude 7.5 quake in Hela province claimed at least 150 lives and caused widespread devastation in several provinces.
The head of the team leading PNG‘s response to the disaster, Dr Bill Hamblin, says they‘ve been sending out re-starter kits for villagers to rebuild their lives.
“Such as saws, hammers, nails. We‘ve sent out some chainsaws and some walkabout sawmills, axes, all those sorts of things that they need to rebuild their basic accommodation,” he said.
“We‘ve spent a couple million on health related activities, put in new x-ray machines into these areas, made sure all the essential drugs are there. We spent a million kina on vaccines to make sure children are immunised.”
Dr Hamblin said his team was working with the United Nations on the immunisation programme, which included vaccines for rubella, tuberculosis.
The “downstream effects” in the provinces of Western and Gulf of the disaster were also substantial, Dr Hamblin said.
“Those provinces were affected because the earthquake put an enormous amount of mud and debris into the rivers – the Strickland River and then down to the Fly River. So it‘s gone right down that river (to South Fly). The water quality deteriorated to the extent that all the fish and turtles and stuff in that river, many of them have died.
That has resulted in people losing their livelihoods and their sources of food, because it‘s not just the fish but their main source of food there is sago, and the sago palm has been affected by the water as well, and becuase you‘ve got so much mud in it, you can‘t wash the sago.”
Dr Hamblin‘s team is working with various UN agencies, the world food programme and others to help displaced and affected communities following the disaster.
According to him, the many communities who have been displaced by the disaster and remain in care centres in Hela and Southern Highlands provinces, a significant number are currently unable to return to their homes.
Some are unable to return to their villages because they‘ve been destroyed by the quake, while some won‘t go back because they fear another large earthquake.
“We‘re going to have to relocate some of these people,” Dr Hamblin explained.
“That in itself in PNG, with land ownership issues and different tribes, is a major exercise.”
With many significant public assets and infrastructure knocked out by the quake and subsequent aftershocks and landslides, PNG is facing a big repair bill.
Meanwhile, PNG‘s parliament is considering an assessment by an international consultancy of the short, medium and long-term asset rehabilitation needs.
A Restoration Authority has been tasked with the rehabilitation of all the identified social and economic assets, such as schools which in Hela‘s case have been out of commission since the quake.
It will co-ordinate with donors over a way to proceed with this mammoth challenge in the months ahead.