Effects of drought in East Sepik, PNG - Assessment Report



Papua New Guinea has experienced noticeably below average rainfall since October 2014, causing drought conditions across large swathes of the country and affecting at least 2.4 million people. Due to the current El Niño weather event, this pattern of reduced rainfall is predicted to last at least through January 2016.

Save the Children carried out a rapid drought needs assessment in East Sepik province from 14-21 October 2015 with the aim of understanding the current situation and impact of the drought, particularly in the Save the Children operational areas in the districts of Wewak, Angoram and Gawi. Nine villages were assessed in six sectors - Child Protection, Education, Food Security and Livelihoods (FSL), Health, Nutrition and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH).

Access to sufficient quantity and quality of water was expressed as the priority need in all nine of the assessed villages. Water levels in both rivers/streams and wells were found to be significantly lower than previous dry seasons and the consumption of contaminated water is a great concern. Increases in cases of diarrhea, skin disease and Pertussis since the onset of the drought were reported, with most communities choosing self-treatment or Village Health Volunteer (VHV) service due to lack of health facilities in the assessed area.

Lack of access to water was also found to be negatively impacting education and child protection as many schools have either closed completely or drastically reduced their hours due to water shortages. Children are therefore forced to either travel increased distances to reach schools in neighbouring villages or are engaged in food and water collection for their household.

At present, the impact of the drought on food security and livelihoods was found to be more significant in the flood-plain/marsh livelihood zone due largely to their reliance on smaller rivers and streams. Negative coping strategies, including eating less preferred food, lower meal consumption and increasing children’s involvement in labour, is apparent across the assessed area. Given the difference in normal livelihood strategies, current access to nutritious food, access to markets and transportation routes and especially access to water, the “localised” impact of the current drought needs to be taken into consideration. Cases of malnutrition and under-nutrition in children aged 6-59 months were similarly clustered in especially vulnerable locations. The nutritional status of children is expected to deteriorate over the next few months if the El Niño-related drought continues.

Key Recommendations - immediate

  1. Priority actions include the provision of water purification kits – including a jerry can with a tap and sufficient Aquatabs for a family for a month - accompanied by training and hygiene awareness raising at the household and community level.

  2. Initiate awareness-raising on acute malnutrition and nutrition education at the community level, especially for pregnant and lactating women. Focus on the prevention of malnutrition, especially for children under two years, through health and hygiene messaging and promotion of locally available nutritious foods (coconuts, fish/seafood, groundnuts, etc.).

  3. Deployment of a mobile medical team to reinforce the existing health system, and identify and treat any emerging health issues, especially in remote areas.

  4. Monthly monitoring of the nutrition and food security situation is needed over the next 3-6 months in order to identify any significant deterioration in the situation.

  5. Support and build capacities of the Department of Education (DoE) to lead the coordination of education interventions addressing the negative impact of the drought on the education system.