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Papua New Guinea: Mt. Ulawun Volcano - Jun 2019

Disaster types

On 26 June, the Ulawun volcano in East New Britain erupted and began emitting ash plumes up to 20,000 metres. About 12,000 people in West New Britain and 4,000 people in East New Britain have been affected by the eruption. About 6,800 people have evacuated and are in two care centres in West New Britain.The West New Britain provincial authorities are assessing the affected area. The volcanic activity is subsiding, and the alert level is expected to be lowered from level 2 to 1. (Office of the Resident Coordinator, 27 Jun 2019)

Between 3,000 and 5,000 people voluntarily evacuated the immediate vicinity of Ulawun, according to the National Disaster Centre. The ash plume is moving generally south but has slowed in recent hours. Air Niugini has cancelled flights to Hoskins Airport until further assessments are made. The cluster system is to be activated in response to food, water, shelter and non food item needs among the evacuees. As the area has been cut off from the highway, relief items will be transported by road from Kimbe to Bialla, and then via helicopter to those affected. (ECHO, 27 Jun 2019)

Approximately 10,620 people have congregated in at least ten care centre sites, according to local-level government authorities in Bialla, West New Britain. Another 427 people are in a single care centre in East New Britain. No casualties have been reported. Ashfall has been observed across Talesea District, and down to Kimbe. The authorities in West New Britain have declared a provincial state of emergency and have activated their emergency response plan for Mt. Ulawun, including the establishment of a forward base in Bialla. All communities within a 20-kilometre radius of the volcano were instructed to relocate to designated safe zones. Hoskins airport was opened at 17:00 today by the airport authority, National Airports Corporation. It is expected that Air Niugini flights will resume over the weekend pending and air quality assessment. (Office of the Resident Coordinator, 28 Jun 2019)

As of 2 July, approximately 13,250 people have congregated in at least 9 care centre sites in West New Britain. Two people have been reportedly sustained light injuries during the relocation. Overcrowding has been observed in the care centre sites. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a large number of people are staying in open areas without shelter, minimal food supplies, with limited access to clean drinking water, latrines, and sanitation.There are public health risks of vector-borne diseases, measles, and other vaccine-preventable and diarrhoeal diseases. Due to heavy ashfall remaining on the runway, Air Niugini flights into Hoskins Airport were cancelled again as of 1 July until a further review is undertaken by the airline.(Office of the Resident Coordinator, 2 Jul 2019)

As of 5 July, there is an estimated 7,318 people staying in seven evacuation sites in West New Britain Province, and 2,538 people are staying in one evacuation site in East New Britain Province, according to IOM displacement profiles. In West New Britain, 86 per cent of those displaced are staying in the government-run care centres, with around 16 per cent staying in open spaces or with no shelter. Five of the six sites reported health-related concerns, including malaria and coughs and only one site was reported to have health services. In East New Britain, around 85 per cent of people displaced are living in makeshift shelters. The site was reported to lack functioning toilets or separate bathing facilities and the primary source of drinking water are nearby streams. Reported health problems include malaria and diarrhoea; there are no health services available near the site. (Office of the Resident Coordinator, 5 Jul 2019)

As of 12 Jul, the Rabaul Volcanological Observatory’s (RVO) preliminary assessment indicates that people evacuated in East New Britain Province may return home immediately, while those evacuated in West New Britain Province may be able to return home in a week’s time. The alert level remains at 1, indicating a low threat to life. West New Britain provincial authorities have downgraded the State of Emergency on 12 July, noting that it would be scaling down operations and officers would be returning to their normal duties. Gaps remain in addressing evacuees’ needs at care centres, apart from food. A major concern remains the risk of disease outbreaks due to a lack of access to water, poor sanitation and hygiene conditions, and general living conditions at the care centres and other evacuation sites. (Office of the Resident Coordinator, 12 Jul 2019)

A government assessment of communities home to approximately 7,500 people, showed nearly all household food gardens were covered in ash and likely lost. Schools, due to resume on 8 July, remained suspended. Evacuees are still located in informal sites along the Pandi River. Access to clean water and sanitation and hygiene continue to be priorities, as well as a growing need to address psychosocial issues and establish safe recreational zones for children and support programs for women. The Government has distributed US$66,700 worth of food relief to evacuation sites, and public health authorities have provided medical assistance. In-country support from humanitarian partners has included provision of food, emergency shelter items and non-food items, essential medicines and supplies, and nutritional supplements. (OCHA, 22 Jul 2019)

On 3 August, Mt Ulawun erupted. According to the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre in Darwin, the ash plume is almost 14 km high. Flights between Port Moresby and Kimbe Airport were cancelled over the weekend. Fine ash from the eruption fell in Kimbe Town and may continue to fall on communities directly downwind of the volcano. Approximately 8,000 people are still displaced following the last eruption in June. (ECHO, 05 Aug 2019)