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Food aid held up in Highlands

Tuesday 22 September 2015 | Published in Regional


KANDEP – At least 10 people have died from starvation in Papua New Guinea’s drought and frost-affected Enga province, a local church leader said, as the nation’s opposition claimed that aid distribution was being “politicised” by local disaster committees.

Ezekiel Peter, the general secretary of the PNG Gutnius Lutheran Church, said the district of Kandep in Enga province was “one of the most affected areas in the islands.”

“The entire district has been wiped out,” he told Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat.

El Nino-driven drought and frosts in the normally tropical Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands has struck subsistence crops, leaving hundreds of thousands without food.

Peter travelled to Kandep to assess the situation over concerns that political infighting was delaying food getting to the people.

He said excuses about travelling allowances, fuel and accommodation by public servants in nearby Wabag district was affecting aid distribution.

“A lot of people are not willing to take part in the distribution so that’s why I have asked my church to provide volunteers,” Peter said.

He said people in Kandep were very upset and angry, and he feared this could lead to rioting, as happened during the 1997 drought.

“There’s no food there, there’s nothing there to eat. So they are wandering about and they cannot find anything to eat,” Peter said.

The drought and accompanying frosts have wiped out staple crops in PNG’s highland areas where villagers are facing months without food if they do not receive help.

Peter’s claims are backed by Papua New Guinea’s opposition, which said local disaster committees were politicising the distribution of aid to drought-affected people.

PNG opposition leader Don Polye wanted to use two million kina from his District Services Improvement Programme budget to help people in his electorate of Kandep Open.

But his spokesman Wanpis Ako said Polye was not able to do so because provincial disaster committees were insisting the funds should come through them, and not other channels.

Ako said the government was not aware about the worsening situation.

“When prime minister Peter O’Neill visited his own electorate, he didn’t have a chance to go to Kandep to see for himself what was happening there and that’s where it’s all been politicised,” Ako said.

At least 30 million kina or NZ$16.5 million is needed to feed the five Highlands Provinces, ravaged by frost and drought, for the next three months according to a report compiled by the National Disaster Centre inter-agency technical assessment team.

However, the government last night said 25 million kina had been released already and only five million kina was outstanding.

The report said about one million people affected by frost and drought will require emergency food supplies through October, November and December.

The drought period is predicted to last until June next year.

The report indicated that food and water sources have “depleted dramatically” and will remain the highest priority until the end of the year.

It said the quantity of food supplies is calculated based on the number of families affected and also taking into consideration the duration of the replanting and harvest cycle.

According to the team sent to the Highlands region, eight districts in the five provinces are severely affected, meaning they experience Category 5 level of the El Nino.

This means they are experiencing high severity of drought and frost where water sources like rivers, creeks plus food sources like gardens have depleted.

The report contains briefs on the extent of damage and the level of assistance that is required by the people in these areas.