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European Union doubles aid to drought-hit PNG

PNG droughtAAP

THE El Nino-related drought and frost that has triggered severe food and water shortages in Papua New Guinea's highlands has prompted the European Commission to more than double its aid there.

The warming of the Pacific Ocean due to the El Nino weather system is causing drought and other extreme weather, affecting millions of people across parts of the world.

Prime Minister Peter O'Neill in August said El Nino may bring on the worst drought in 20 years in Papua New Guinea.

The PNG government estimates that three in seven people are affected by the drought, and that up to 400,000 are suffering a severe lack of food due to crop failure, according to the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO).

"Usually year-round they grow sweet potatoes for food, and they harvest from their gardens, but now they have lost everything," said Bernard Jaspers Faijer, ECHO's rapid response co-ordinator for the Asia-Pacific, who visited PNG earlier this month.

"In one district there is a lack of food because they lost everything in their garden, and they've eaten their stores."

Some people are forced to walk up to three hours to fetch water because their creeks and streams have dried up, Jaspers Faijer told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

ECHO already provides $A955,000 in aid to Papua New Guinea, but will give an additional $A986,000 for food aid and projects to boost water supply, Jaspers Faijer said.

The new projects are expected to begin mid-January and be completed by the end of 2016.

"We will focus on hospitals, clinics and schools so the facilities can continue working. We saw a few places where they struggled to keep hospitals going and had to truck in water," he said.

ECHO said even if rainfall returns to normal levels and people resume planting, they would have to wait six months for the next harvest.

It said El Nino is predicted to peak in the first three months of 2016, and the situation could deteriorate substantially.


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Mathias Kin

There is some rain in Simbu now and for the last month. This was one of the worst affected provinces in PNG.

For this high altitude province (1,500 to 2,500 metres above sea level), kaukau tubers take 6 to 9 months to form.

While some new varieties now can yield in 3 to 4 months, as was seen in the 1997 drought, tubers don't usually form early. So the shortage in food will continue for a long while yet.

To make matters worse, the government has not carried out any reliable assessments of the extent of the drought in the provinces, especially in Simbu.

The responses, coordination and management by authorities in terms of provision of relief food to the affected communities have been very disappointing. This has been shown time and again in Simbu.

Due to the rain there are some vegetables in the gardens and around the houses now. But no serious starch yet.

We hope for some good coordination from here on in the distribution of seeds, kaukau vines, tapioca sticks, cornseed etc as the people try struggle to get back their normal subsistence lives.

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