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UN Supports Papua New Guinea Following Deadly Landslide

The United Nations continues to assist authorities in Papua New Guinea (PNG) with search and rescue efforts four days after the massive landslide in Enga province, where some 2,000 people are feared dead and accessing survivors remains a challenge.

Six bodies have been recovered so far and the number is expected to increase, the UN Country Team (UNCT) said on Tuesday.

The total affected population, including those in need of possible evacuation and relocation, has been estimated at 7,849 people, or 1,427 households, with most under the age of 16.

A total of 150 structures are estimated to have been buried.

Bridge collapse

Although security in the remote northern province is affected by tribal fighting, aid delivery currently is not directly threatened.

The UNCT reported, however, that a bridge on one of the main thoroughfares in the mountainous area collapsed on Tuesday morning, complicating access and disrupting communication between Enga and the rest of the region.

The alternative road to Enga is through another highway which can take up to three more hours, so the Defense Force is (authorities are?) examining solutions to fix the bridge as soon as possible.

More disaster fears

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Rescue efforts are also complicated by fears that the waterlogged ground could shift again, and as heavy rains continue, UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Tuesday.

“We don’t want a disaster on top of the current one,” said Itayi Viriri, IOM regional spokesperson for Asia and the Pacific, speaking via Zoom from Bangkok on Tuesday.

The landslide occurred at 3 AM on Friday, local time, “when most people were probably sleeping”, he told journalists in Geneva, burying homes, infrastructure and farmland under up to eight metres of soil and debris.

“A lot of the people who have been affected by this landslide actually moved to this area after escaping tribal conflicts in other parts of the province of Enga. So these are people who are already displaced who are now having to move to other locations,” he added.

Drinking water concerns

IOM warned that with so many bodies still to be recovered from beneath the rubble, concerns arise over whether underground water flowing down the mountain will contaminate local drinking water sources.

“What is needed now, obviously, is access to clean water; quite a lot of the water that normally the community would access is already under rubble,” Mr. Viriri said.

“So, providing that along with, food, of course, clothing, shelter items, kitchen utensils, anything that will try and alleviate the hardship that the people are facing right now.”

Request for assistance

The National Disaster Centre has formally written to the UN Resident Coordinator in PNG to request international assistance. All partners are also urged to collaborate and coordinate assistance through the Centre and provincial disaster management bodies.

Immediate needs include clean water, food, clothing, shelter items, kitchen utensils, medicine and hygiene kits and psychosocial support. Provincial authorities have also requested the international community to immediately deploy geotechnical engineers to carry out a geohazard assessment.

The UN has been supporting the authorities since the onset of the disaster, including in the search and retrieval operations, establishment of emergency centres, and with initial and immediate needs assessments.

UN on the ground

Staff from IOM and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) are on the ground, alongside the UN Humanitarian Coordination Advisor.

The UN is also coordinating the response efforts of all partners, both at the national and provincial levels, in addition to supporting the Government in addressing immediate needs.

IOM, UNDP, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and UN Women will provide relief supplies and psychosocial support, in coordination with the local emergency response team.

UNICEF is intensifying its emergency response and has so far distributed a quantity of hygiene and dignity kits, containing buckets, jerrycans and soap as well as reusable sanitary pads, multipurpose cloth and other items which had been prepositioned with the local Provincial Health Authority.

“We are working closely with Papua New Guinean authorities and community organizations to provide vital support to the survivors of this terrible disaster,” UNICEF Representative Angela Kearney said on Tuesday.

“It’s now clear that over 40 per cent of those impacted are children under the age of 16 who have been deeply traumatised by the loss of their families, homes, and livelihoods.”

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