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Humanitarian crisis unfolding

Wednesday 7 October 2015 | Published in Regional


Thousands face starvation as worsening drought destroys vital food resources

PORT MORESBY – A humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Papua New Guinea’s highlands where hundreds of thousands of people face starvation after a combination of drought, frosts and daytime heat has destroyed vital food resources.

There’s also a severe water shortage with most major rivers now down to trickles.

With the intensifying El Nino weather pattern affecting much of the Pacific already, in PNG’s Highlands the situation is now being described as the worst in living memory.

Blossom Gilmour, the emergency response coordinator and assistant country director for the aid group CARE in PNG, said its been four to five months since some areas of the Highlands provinces have seen any rain at all.

“For a lot of people, their crops have completely dried up at this point and they are now relying on eating things they wouldn’t normally eat. Things they would normally feed to their pigs.

“The food is less nutritious and they’re eating less quantity. We’ve spoken to mothers who are eating one meal a day now and trying to make sure their children get enough food.

“According to government estimates the drought is affecting over two million people. If the rains don’t come until early in the New Year or even midway through next year, a lot of people will have no garden food, and people really do rely on their garden food. They won’t have access to any food at all unless food relief is distributed.”

Gilmour said it will require a significant logistical effort to get the amount of food needed out to the population in the remote areas affected by the drought that are only accessible by light aircraft.

“It does require the government to ramp up efforts now and prepare. The NGO community is willing to help now but we’re hoping the government will lead the response and really think how they are going to manage this for the next four to six months.

“Even if the rains come in March, which is the prediction, it will be months before the gardens produce food again.

“So that’s taking us into August of next year which is ten months from now.

“That means a very prolonged period of having little or no food in many communities.”