Between May and July 2022, the period of the national general election, violence has escalated in parts of the Highlands region. The presence of security personnel in the conflict-affected areas is limited, tensions remain high, and outbreaks of new violence could continue at least through the end of the August during the period for challenging election results. While in most areas, the violence is directly related to the election, in some places it has resurfaced from long-standing issues, including land disputes, retribution, and unsettled disputes between clans, who are using the instability around elections to re-ignite fights.
The areas believed to have the greatest humanitarian needs are Porgera, Laiagam, and Kompiam districts in Enga province; Magarima district in Hela province; and Nipa district in Southern Highlands province. While the commercial airport serving Enga province remains closed, Mission Aviation Fellowship has resumed regular flights to parts the province, and roads are passable with coordinated security escorts.
Officials and partners have reported killings, including of women and children; sexual violence against women and girls; sorcery accusation-related violence against women; destruction of homes, schools, churches, hospitals, businesses, and agricultural warehouses; and violence and destruction of homes and properties of communities and churches hosting displaced persons.
Due to the ongoing insecurity in these areas, needs assessments cannot currently be conducted. Projected populations, disaggregated by sex and age group, including certain vulnerable populations, also serve as an indicator of overall affected populations. The estimated figure on affected population is uncertain at this stage; however, the overall population of these affected districts is estimated to be 529,181 people or 98,349 households. The CCCM/Shelter/NFI cluster estimates around 50 percent of the population or 264,590 people or 49,175 households have been affected. The cluster further estimates that one third of those—87,315 people or 16,227 households—could be displaced from their homes.
In some places, churches, considered safe havens, are hosting displaced populations; six churches in Enga province are hosting about 2,000 people, mostly women and children.
Estimates from organizations and government officials in the affected districts and provinces indicate that about 21,000 people are displaced in or have fled from the conflict-affected areas as of the end of July, but this figure is believed to be largely undercounting the actual number of people who have fled or have been displaced.
Most of those displaced have fled to other communities in and outside the respective provinces or to neighboring mountains. There is pressure on churches and communities hosting displaced persons, which include sexual violence victims in some cases, to meet basic needs and health care.
Businesses, schools, and hospitals in these areas have closed, and several have been damaged or destroyed in the fighting. Current estimated catchment populations for health facilities and school enrolment figures are indicators of the populations affected by lack of access to basic health services and education: about 25,700 students are unable to attend school and about 557,800 people have no or limited access to basic health services due to damaged facilities, lack of staff who have fled the violence, disrupted supply chains, and other impacts from the violence.
The Director of the National Disaster Centre wrote to the UN Resident Coordinator, as co-chair of the Disaster Management Team, on 26 July welcoming assistance from international partners. He also requested the Police Commissioner, who is coordinating election-related security in the Highlands, that a humanitarian corridor be established to allow for the safe delivery of essential relief goods and services. The Commissioner has identified a coordinating focal point but acknowledges that security forces are limited in capacity.
Private sector businesses and members of the Highlands Humanitarian Hub have coordinated at least two convoys of trucks to a church in Porgera hosting about 300 women and children, including rape survivors, to deliver emergency food and non-food-items, as well as post-rape treatment kits.
Churches and NGOs who are working with affected communities and displaced people in these provinces have indicated the following urgent needs:
• Lack of food items, including fresh produce and protein, as well as store items, and fuel • Lack of medicines and medical supplies, as well as lack of medical services, especially for victims of rape and sorcery accusations • Lack of shelter, clothing, hygiene items, and other relief items, especially for those displaced • Lack of access to education for school-aged children To address these critical needs, a multisectoral humanitarian response is required in five districts– across camp coordination and camp management, shelter, and non-food items (CCCM/Shelter/NFI; water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH); protection, especially gender-based violence (GBV) and child protection (CP); food security; education; and health, including sexual and reproductive health.
While initial response planning may rely on estimated figures and secondary data, assessments will need to be conducted when it is safe to do so, to further tailor and refine response actions. As part of the assessments, the Displacement Tracking Matrix and Solution and Mobility Index may be employed.