On 26 February 2018, a magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck in the PNG highlands and caused substantial damage to Southern Highlands, Hela, Gulf and Western Provinces. Powerful aftershocks continued for several months following the initial earthquake.

The earthquake occurred in one of the most geographically isolated areas of the country and caused unprecedented damage to people and property. As well as multiple deaths, the affected region sustained widespread destruction of homes, gardens, roads and bridges and substantial damage to schools and health facilities. Many communities were left without basic necessities such as food, clean water, shelter and medical support.

Earthquake response and relief efforts


Due to the proximity of the earthquake epicentre to our operational and logistical facilities, Oil Search and OSF were uniquely placed to be first responders. We provided essential early village and community damage and need assessments for distribution to Government and aid agencies. As part of this process our Teams delivered urgent medical treatments and emergency supplies to some of most remote and hardest-hit villages. Our Moro base became a coordination point for receiving and distributing emergency aid, food and supplies contributed by the Company, our partners and other donors, including foreign governments and aid agencies.

Oil Search provided urgent food, water and medical supplies for impacted communities as part of our US$5 million commitment to support relief efforts. Oil Search and OSF worked closely with the PNG Government’s National Disaster Committee and other government agencies, and in partnership with the Australian Government, to coordinate over US$990,000 in donations and funding leveraged for relief and recovery support. For six weeks, OSF provided the most reliable data available from the region through daily situation reports about the on-the-ground status, enabling targeted support.

More than 200 tonnes of materials were delivered by our helicopters using our logistics facilities across the disaster area and over 2,500 earthquake victims were treated for medical and surgical conditions by Oil Search’s Medical and Occupational Health Service team. The PNG Government National Disaster Centre estimates that Oil Search activities were responsible for nearly 80% of urgently-required aid in the region during the first four weeks after the earthquake.

Our rapid response is testament to the Company’s culture of caring for our communities and believing we have a responsibility to use our resources to help when needed.

Video - Earthquake relief efforts

Using our personnel, infrastructure, airfields and aircraft, Oil Search was at the forefront of first responder efforts to provide urgent medical and relief supplies to villages, towns and medical facilities across all impacted provinces.

Recovery and restoration phase

Recovery and restoration phase 1

Recovery and restoration phase 2

As we moved from the response to the recovery phase, Oil Search’s engineering and construction resources worked to open the Kopi to Kutubu road as an alternative to the damaged Highlands Highway, making it an important route for the supply of food, fuel and restoration equipment.

OSF’s strong relationship with the Hela and Southern Highlands Provincial Health Authorities was invaluable. Foundation staff worked to replace critical medical equipment for both Provincial hospitals and provided logistics support for international humanitarian partners to mobilise in the impacted areas.

Immediate repairs were made to medical staff's houses and water supply at Hela Provincial Hospital, and OSF provided surge funding to relieve impacted hospital staff. This helped the Hela Provincial Health Authority to keep the hospital running when it was in danger of closing.

OSF continued its support for months after the earthquake, deploying 46 mobile health clinics that reached thousands of people in more than 50 communities. The clinics were an important part of the emergency response as they helped to mitigate the outbreak of disease caused by displacement and lack of proper medical support. As part of the recovery phase, they:

  • Administered over 5,500 vaccinations to approximately 2,000 children aged under five.
  • Undertook nutritional assessments for 1,500 children.
  • Provided ante-natal services to over 100 women.
  • Provided health awareness to more than 5,000 people about safe water storage, hand-washing, safe cooking and immunisation.
  • Provided health assessments and addressed urgent medical needs for adults in all villages.

OSF also funded and supported detailed engineering assessments of 30 health facilities in Hela and 18 health facilities and schools in Southern Highlands to inform costings for either rebuilding or rehabilitation and repairs. With its partners, OSF is working with one of the most severely impacted communities, Yalanda, to support 800 people with their community-initiated relocation to safer land, while ensuring the people have adequate food, safe water and sanitation, access to health services and the right equipment to rebuild homes, schools, and gardens.

As part of the PNG Government’s recovery efforts, OSF is collaborating with the Emergency Controller’s Office to deliver and install 650 water tanks for health facilities, schools and communities across Southern Highlands and Hela Provinces between 2018 and 2019. Oil Search’s emergency response teams also delivered restoration kits with basic tools such as saws, hammers and nails so villagers could begin rebuilding their homes.

The work by Oil Search staff to safely shut down our facilities, address the challenges of re-establishing water, power and sanitation facilities, and support recovery efforts was exceptional. Under the stress of continued aftershocks and challenged support services, they demonstrated unrelenting dedication, professionalism and teamwork.

We are continuing to work with governments, partners, donors and communities to support recovery in PNG, concentrating our efforts on: rebuilding remote villages, homes and livelihoods; re-establishing schools and small businesses; and restoring water supplies. Our work has been recognised by the PNG Chamber of Mines and Petroleum through an inaugural Outstanding Humanitarian Award, and by the S&P Platts Global Energy Awards as the winner in the Corporate Social Responsibility category.