Children dying of hunger as frost, drought worsens in Papua New Guinea, villagers say

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By Michael Walsh, staff

Children in remote areas of Papua New Guinea are dying as a result of food shortages caused by frost and worsening drought, villagers say.

Severe dry weather has evaporated water sources in Panduaga as the El Nino weather event continues to ravage PNG's highlands.

Meanwhile, frequent overnight frosts have devastated food gardens, forcing villagers to rely on bush foods.

Rocky Herpet, a ward councillor in Hela province, said two children died after eating the unfamiliar food.

"Two kids have died because of the drought now. They were vomiting when [they] died," he told the ABC.

"Everything here is affected by the frost and we can't live for a long time now."

Hela, which had previously been part of the Southern Highlands, only became an official province in May 2012.

Mr Herpert said people in Panduaga are yet to receive any food relief because provincial governors have been arguing over which province is responsible for the village.

"We have no member, no governor to help us. We live this corner, no one can help us," he said.

James Komengi, the administrator for the Hela Community Good Action forum said despite the political wrangling, Panduaga is definitely part of Hela province.

In a gathering of elders in Panduaga this week, they pressed the councillor to seek immediate help in responding to the ongoing drought crisis.

"The situation there is really critical," Mr Komengi said.

"People there were saying that because they didn't support the current representative in parliament they are unlikely to receive something."

A state of emergency has already been declared in the Southern Highlands and Enga province, where church leaders claimed at least 10 people died from starvation last month.

The PNG government has pledged to provide emergency relief funds to affected areas, but was warned the situation on the ground could get worse.

According to PNG's National Weather Service (NWS), the El Nino phenomenon will continue to strengthen and is expected to last until March 2016.

The effects are expected to surpass the 1997 event that adversely impacted around 3 million people, the NWS said.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation