Govt response to PNG earthquakes too slow for Hela landowners

7:20 am on 4 April 2018

The February earthquake in PNG's Hela caused extensive damage, including this massive landslip - one of hundreds - near Hides. Photo: Bernard McQueen

A landowner in Papua New Guinea's Hela province says the government's relief response to the major Highlands earthquake has been too slow.

The 7.5 magnitude quake in late February, along with subsequent landslides and aftershocks, caused major destruction in the region around Hela.

At least 125 deaths have been reported, as well as widespread damage to infrastructure and buildings in Hela and Southern Highlands provinces.

A landowner from Hides, Andy Hamaga, said even though disrupted transport links have hampered assessment and relief efforts, help should have come quicker.

"Restoration is taking at snail's pace, it's too slow. And the food rations are not being given as expected," he said.

"Millions of kina in foreign aid was given but so far, especially in the area where I come from, Hides, my people are telling me there's nothing to show for it on the ground."

He explained that local people were desperately in need after the quake destoyed staple food sources.

"Because of the earthquake, the drain was destroyed and people no longer look after pigs. All food gardens were destroyed, and fresh water that they depend on for consumption were all destroyed. There's no clean water at the moment," he said.

Mr Hamaga said national disaster teams appear to have not been given adequate support from the government in order to do the job.

He said this was part of the reason why relief efforts and restoration efforts were stilted.

While the government has been struggling to reach all of the communities in need, Mr Hamaga was complimentary about the efforts of oil and gas companies Oil Search and Exxonmobil.

Even though Hides landowners have in the past criticised the major LNG gas project which is operated by the two companies in the area, they were noting significant efforts by the developers to assist since the quake.

According to Mr Hamaga, local communities were still traumatised by ongoing aftershocks, although these were gradually getting smaller than in the early days after the 26 February quake.