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Hela and SHP still need humanitarian help: UN

The United Nations says people in Hela and Southern Highlands still need humanitarian assistance following the 7.5 magnitude earthquake in the Highlands region a year ago.

UN resident coordinator Gianluca Rampolla told The National that the quake had only added more problems to the region, especially Hela and Southern Highlands.

Rampolla, who had led a team to Hela and Southern Highlands earlier this month, said both provinces had problems like lack of schools, tribal conflicts and health-related issues such as malnutrition before the quake struck in February last year.

He said the aftermath was not the first thing in people’s mind, rather tribal conflicts and law and order issues were their main concern in Hela and Southern Highlands.

But Rampolla said the people of the two provinces were happy to welcome his team during their visit, adding that they were thankful to see that people still cared for them.

The recently concluded UN mission to the region also found that while most immediate earthquake-related needs had partly been met, people were still facing development and human rights challenges from ongoing conflicts and due to their isolation and remoteness.

The UN in its assessment found almost 550,000 people were impacted and nearly 20,000 displaced, and destroyed roads, bridges, hospitals, schools and other vital public infrastructure. It increased an already precarious food insecurity situation by damaging garden plots and interrupting water supplies. Many of the 200 aftershocks measuring between magnitudes 4.5 and 5.5 caused widespread panic among the affected population and continue to do so.

Together, with humanitarian partners and the private sector, the UN mobilised over K67.32 million (US$20 million) to provide assistance to 200,000 people in need of immediate relief – of which 63,000 were children, half were girls and 62,000 were women. Because many affected communities were situated in extremely remote areas, helicopters and 4×4 vehicles were utilised to bring relief items. Although the response was interrupted briefly by fighting, working with partners on the ground, UN agencies managed to deploy staff and supplies over the course of several months to address the most urgent humanitarian needs in Hela and Southern Highlands.

In all, the UN established two field coordination hubs in Tari, Hela and Mendi, Southern Highlands and supported the establishment of two logistics hubs in Moro, Southern Highlands and Mount Hagen, Western Highlands.

UN stated that One year later, the after-effects of the earthquake are still visible. The disaster has compounded the development challenges faced by the affected provinces, and the impact of chronic, low level intensity armed inter-clan fighting that have been ongoing for years.

“The earthquake was the strongest-ever registered in Papua New Guinea and even stronger than the one that hit parts of Bali a few months later,” Rampolla said.

“Because many affected communities were in an extremely vulnerable state to begin with, the earthquake further eroded their limited livelihoods.”
The UN earthquake response included, health, protection, shelter, food security, education, water, sanitation, and hygiene.

The UN hopes that the work done during the emergency phase will help boost overall services in the region and lead to a more established UN presence.

Discussions are now under way for the UN to start the development of an area-based programme in the earthquake-affected provinces of Southern Highlands and Hela which remain severely under-serviced and conflict-prone.

Work has already commenced with critical development and peace-building work.

Vital to enabling the UN to rapidly initiate its life-saving response in a highly challenging operating environment was the availability of internal UN emergency funds, including the K30.97 million (US$9.2 million) from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).

Source: The National PNG

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