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Thursday 7 July 2016 | Published in Regional


Villagers say they have been hungry for a year

PAPUA NEW GUINEA – People in the remote regions of Papua New Guinea have been enduring food shortages and hunger for nearly a year.

Food aid is only just arriving for more than 100,000 people in the Highlands region where food supplies have been compromised by damage caused to crops by El Niño-driven drought and unprecedented frosts.

Care International, the World Food Program and provincial authorities are distributing much-needed rice to provinces whose crops were badly hit last August by the worst frost in 40 years and the prolonged drought that followed.

“They have not had any substantial crops, their root crops that they eat every day, since August of last year,” Care’s Blossum Gilmour told the ABC’s Pacific Beat.

“People say they’ve been hungry now for 11 months. They’ve been surviving on pumpkin and cabbage and green vegetables, but it’s staple crop of the sweet potato, which they haven’t had for a very long time, that makes up the majority of people’s diet.”

PNG has been experiencing its most severe El Niño-induced drought since 1997-1998.

In March, Prime Minister Peter O’Neill rejected reports of widespread deaths due to the drought.

He said PNG would manage the drought response through its new disaster office and would not request help from the Australian Government with the delivery of food.

While Care International’s food distribution has begun for about 125,000 people in two of the high-altitude provinces most affected by the frost and drought – Enga and Hela – the process is not a simple one,” Gilmour said.

“We’re talking about people living in very remote locations so we have to go and find them and get them registered,” she said.

“It’s a very complicated process, involving village leaders and church leaders and youth leaders, and trying to get everyone to agree upon who are the people in this village and how many households are there.”

Households each receive an initial supply of 70 kilograms of rice, enough to last six weeks, and a further 80 kilograms six weeks later.

Gilmour said she hoped local crops would be replenished soon.

“Part of the reason that people are still hungry is because they’re waiting for those crops to come back,” she said.

“In the high altitude locations, it takes six to nine months for those potato crops and those sweet potato crops to mature.

“People are already harvesting some sweet potato, but it is the beginning and they’re very small and there has been a lot of crop failure as a result of the drought.

“We are expecting by September people should be returning to normal unless there is another extreme circumstance.

“If there is another big frost, for example, then we will have to re-evaluate.”