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Catholic Church assists with worst drought crisis in 20 years

Children in Algi VillagePETER BUGDEN | The Catholic Leader

CHURCH agencies and religious orders are hurrying to the aid of Papua New Guinea, suffering hunger and disease through its worst drought in almost 20 years.

Severe frosts combined with drought have wiped out subsistence crops in highland areas and people have begun to die.

Media reports said villagers in some areas were facing months without food if they do not receive help.

Jayson Yaki, a boarding supervisor at Marist College Ashgrove, who hails from Ialibu near Mendi in PNG’s Southern Highlands, said his family back home had told him this drought was worse than the last.

“On top of the drought, the frost killed off a lot of the gardens and the new crops can’t grow,” he said.

A dried fish pond in the Highlands“The fish are dying as well as water levels are going down. People are relying on outside assistance in terms of food.”

Mr Yaki said the Brisbane PNG community had held fundraisers in support of their homeland.

The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, with priests in PNG, and Caritas Australia are among those offering help.

Mount Hagen Archbishop Douglas Young was grateful for any assistance.

“The whole of PNG, apart from a few pockets, is affected by the drought, and a few areas in the Highlands are also affected by frost,” he said.

“[The Highlands are] the worst and most immediately affected, but other parts of the country are catching up.

“We know from experience that people can survive for several weeks with what can still be harvested.

“But after that they are in desperate straits, especially the elderly and the more vulnerable for whom hunger can exacerbate other underlying issues,” Archbishop Young said.

“Therefore our first response is to reassure people in our own network, that is, the parishes, that we will do all we can, as we have done in the past, to assist them with garden food – sweet potato, cooking bananas, green vegetables – donated by less affected areas and imported food such as rice, which is easy to store and to distribute, wherever possible.

“We also reassure them of our solidarity and warn against indiscriminate lighting of fires and urge them to pay special attention to the vulnerable.

“Although this can be a time of hunger, there should be no reason for anyone to die of starvation.”

Archbishop Young said the diocese, through funds from its Lenten appeal, had provided “one distribution of rice and a more limited sharing of donated garden food, primarily to schools so as to keep children in school as long as possible”.

“Caritas PNG, Australia and New Zealand have visited already and consulted with us about a more long-term response, to include more awareness on avoiding the worst effects of both drought and frost,” he said.

Mendi diocese’s Caritas development coordinator Ian Apeit said he knew about 78,000 people in the diocese were victims of the disaster, but some parts of the diocese still had not been contacted.

Mr Apeit said people in some parts of the diocese had become weak and thin, and were in desperate need of help.

“The immediate need is food items of rice, fish and noodles, salt, sugar …,” he said in a report to MSC Mission Office Australia.

“Other support (needed) would be seedlings, tanks and water storage apparatuses for communities.”

Mr Apeit said the people also needed help with the re-establishment of fish-pond projects, chicken projects and others.

The Mendi diocese had sought help from MSC Mission Office Australia to address the “dire shortage of clean, safe, drinkable water”.

Donations to MSC Mission Office Australia, PO Box 177, Kensington NSW 1465 or email [email protected]


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