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Oil Search Reflects on Earthquake Relief Efforts Five Months On

Despite high degrees of uncertainty and lack of initial information, Oil Search responded immediately to the victims of the 7.5 magnitude earthquake that shook Hela and Southern Highlands Provinces early this year. Relief and restoration efforts are continuing in Hela Province still to this day, and this independent reporter looks back over the last five months to showcase what really took place.

It had been almost 100 years since the last earthquake of this magnitude hit Papua New Guinea. No one really knew what to expect or how to respond. There was fear, panic and absolute chaos in the immediate aftermath but one organisation dove in head first to assist and took the lead.

The Oil Search relief efforts was both timely and significant. Many organisations both non-government and government relied heavily on whatever information was provided by Oil Search who had a standard information template on the two provinces.  I had the opportunity to speak with Mr Peter Botten, Managing Director of Oil Search, and hear his thoughts on the matter.

“When communications was restored, we spoke to the village landowners and our village liaison officers. We got a very big team of officers already in the villages who provided feedback which we went out immediately. We could then automatically connect and work easily to assist those affected by assessing and calling out to bring more relief aid and medical assistance,” recollects Mr. Peter Botten.

At one point Oil Search became the distributor of Maps for Hela Province to assist organisations to provide relief efforts especially for the remote areas of Hela. Road access and all direct airfields in the area were destroyed by the earthquake, with the only nearest airfield being in Moro in the Southern Highlands. This airfield played a pivotal role in transporting all relief supplies to Hela and Southern Highlands Provinces.

Mr Botton also acknowledged the tremendous efforts of other organisations including Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) in reaching out to the remote communities as well as the support that was eventually provided to PNG by the Governments of Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan and the others.

Oil Search estimates that the relief operations touched over 200,000 lives. It was incredible to hear that in certain remote areas, Oil Search had visited the areas seven to eight times in a day.

“Some of our communities are still cut off, some of our communities still struggle with health care and we are working very closely with the government as to how we can manage and help the process in terms of restoration. There was one intense effort around immediate response and relief effort to keep people alive and provide medical treatment. There is a much longer game around restoration and we will play a part to keep providing the support that is needed,” Said Mr Botton.

It is essential that we all learn from this disaster; not just Oil Search but the PNG Government, the NGO’s and other partners during the relief efforts. However Mr. Botten notes that there was very little publicity or profiling in the international media about the devastation in the highlands at that time. He expressed his view that “Learning lessons and understanding experiences is the important thing here”.

For Oil Search, the relief efforts brought the organisation together as a team and with an organisational culture of making positive impacts, the organisation, according to Mr Botten, did exceptionally well.

“It was absolutely not a question for us to do what we did. We also knew that if we did not help, we will all be in trouble in the long term. People remember [when] you are there in their hour of need, just as I would if I had a problem at home, [and] they also remember if you are not there. Apart from having an absolute moral obligation to be there, we are part of that community” Said Mr Botten.


Source: Staycey Yalo – Freelance Reporter 

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