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Papua New Guinea Halts Search for Landslide Survivors as UN Warns of Disease Outbreak

The risk of disease outbreaks has risen in Enga province of Papua New Guinea due to contaminated water and lack of supplies.

Papua New Guinea ruled out finding more survivors under the rubble of last week’s massive landslide, as a UN agency warned of a “significant risk of disease outbreak” among displaced residents, who had yet to receive sufficient supplies of food and clean water.

Six days after a mountainside community in Enga province was buried in a sea of soil, boulders, and debris, the United Nations’ migration agency (IOM) reported on Thursday that water sources had become tainted and the risk of disease was soaring. Much of the area’s water flowed through the landslide site – now a 600 metre-long (1,970 feet) graveyard of a still undetermined number of people.

“The creeks now flowing from the debris are contaminated, posing a significant risk of disease outbreak,” the UN’s migration agency told partners in a rapid assessment report.

“There are no methods being used to treat the water to make it safe for drinking,” it said, warning of diarrhoea and malaria.

For much of the past week, residents of villages affected by the landslide have been digging through countless tonnes of earth in the search for buried relatives. Witnesses reported the stench of dead bodies had become overwhelming.

“No bodies are expected to be alive under the debris at this point, so it’s a full recovery operation to recover any human remains,” Enga province disaster committee chairman Sandis Tsaka told the Reuters news agency.

Officials and rescuers only managed to recover 11 bodies. At least two people had survived and were rescued three days after the disaster.

More than 2,000 people may have been buried alive, according to the country’s government. A UN estimate put the death toll at about 670, while a businessman and former official told Reuters that it was closer to 160.

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