Post-quake PNG relief effort is mired in chaos, squabbles and survivors’ misery

Long wekks after the mammoth quake destroyed their homes, the meagre shelter of this crowded tent is home for scores of survivors.

Long wekks after the mammoth quake destroyed their homes, the meagre shelter of this crowded tent is home for scores of survivors. Photo: Thomas Nybo/UNICEF

Almost a month after the deadly earthquake that rocked Papua New Guinea just a fraction of available relief funds have been allocated, leaving survivors to eke out a miserable existence in makeshift camps.

The chaotic effort has even seen disaster officials briefly locked out of their offices as a result of a rent duispute.

The scale of the emergency is testing the finances and capacity of one of the world’s poorest countries, officials admit.

The magnitude 7.5 quake rocked the nation’s remote mountainous highlands on February 26, killing at least 100 people.

Thousands of survivors have walked to remote airstrips and jungle clearings, awaiting helicopters bringing supplies of food, water and medicines, aid agencies and authorities say.

“To date, we do not have any money to do all the necessary things,” Tom Edabe, the disaster co-ordinator for the hardest-hit province of Hela, said by telephone from Tari, its capital.

“The government is trying to assist and have budgeted some money, but to date we have not received anything.

“We have only been given food and non-food items supplied by other NGOs.”

There is no shortage of relief supplies in Port Moresby, but very few shipments are actually reaching quake survivors.   Photo: Thomas Nybo/UNICEF

Continuing aftershocks are still rattling residents, who have to collect rainwater brought by daily storms, Mr Edabe said.

“The biggest thing that people need, apart from food, is water,” said James Pima, a helicopter pilot and flight manager at aviation firm HeliSolutions in the Western Highlands capital of Mt. Hagen, about 170km from the disaster zone.

“They don’t have clean water to cook or drink … they are standing there staring. The expression on their faces is blank.”

His firm’s three helicopters fly relief missions “fully flat-out every day,” Pima added.

The destruction of roads and runways means authorities must rely on helicopters to fly in relief. But while nimble, the craft can only carry smaller loads than fixed-wing aircraft and cannot fly during the afternoon thunderstorms.

The logistics problems wind all the way to PNG’s disaster centre, where officials told Reuters they were locked out of their office in Port Moresby, the capital, for two days last week after the government missed a rental payment.

“That was correct, Monday and Tuesday,” a spokeswoman said.

In a joint report with the United Nations published on Friday, the agency cited “lack of quality data” about food shortages, limited aircraft assets and “significant gaps” in sanitation support as being the biggest problems.

-with AAP

Topics: Earthquakes
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