PNG drought heading to become humanitarian crisis

Dry weather has gripped much of Papua New Guinea in recent months, while frosts in the last fortnight in the country’s highland regions have destroyed vital food supplies.

A state of emergency has already been declared in Enga and Southern highlands.

The El Niño typically linked to dryness and frosts are often an early symptom of the phenomenon, weather experts say.

Papua New Guinea’s prime minister has visited areas affected by drought and frosts as the government deploys almost US$9 million in relief funds to affected parts.

O’Neill says the government is making preparations for a potential worsening of drought conditions due to an extended El Niño and the effects of climate change.

He says the National Agricultural Research Institute has embarked on visits to affected areas to provide free crop seedlings so that people can return to gardening and start replanting crops to sustain themselves.

Ezekiel Peter the general secretary of the PNG Gutnius Lutheran Church, has been appointed to lead its just established National Committee on Drought and Frost Relief.

He’s based in Wabag in Enga province, one of the Highlands provinces hardest hit by the drought which has dried up rivers, and frosts which have killed vital food gardens.

Ezekiel is urging the national government to move faster in getting emergency food relief to drought and frost affected parts of the country.

He says while some areas have food reserves, the government needs to respond much more quickly to the disaster than it has so far.

The provincial administrator in Enga Province says they are hoping a consignment of food aid sent by the national government will arrive before the weekend.

Samson Amean says while about a quarter of a million people have been affected by severe frosts many others are suffering as a result of two months of drought.

Aid workers said it was too early to assess the damage to the country’s coffee industry, but added that Papua New Guinea would face a potential humanitarian emergency if O’Neil’s assessment comes to pass.

“Everyone has their own garden and they rely very heavily on it for food. If their gardens are destroyed by frost or it becomes very dry because of a lack of water then there could be a significant proportion of the population in food stress,” said Blossum Gilmour, CARE Papua New Guinea’s assistant country director.


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News category: Asia Pacific.

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