El Nino Affects a Million People in PNG Highlands

from International Organization for Migration
Published on 04 Sep 2015 View Original

Papua New Guinea - A million people in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG) are currently enduring severe drought and frost in what has been described as the worst El Niño weather system in living memory.

PNG’s National Disaster Centre estimates that it will cost USD 12 million (PGK 35 million) just to bring food to the affected families over the next four months.

The assessment team made up of national and provincial agencies and IOM also found that assistance is needed at provincial and district levels. The Government of Papua New Guinea has so far given PGK 5 million and pledged another PGK 25 million (USD 9 million).

The assessment team, led by the National Disaster Committee and representatives of the PNG Defence Force, Red Cross and other Government departments, has just returned from the isolated Highland region to assess the extent of the El Niño effect.

The impact of the disaster is clearly visible: the landscape has already changed in colour from green to brown and is more prone to wild fires. Subsistence vegetables like sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and carrots have been badly affected by frost, while unique trees like the casuarina are drying out, as wild life migrates to greener pastures. Livestock, mainly pigs, sheep, goats, cows and poultry are also feeling the lack of food and water.

This has produced a negative impact on cash economies for the population that rely on subsistence farming. Water levels have diminished and have also affected coffee plantations which will impact the production of coffee, one of the main crops destined for export.

Inland fisheries, a new multimillion dollar initiative sponsored by the National Fisheries Authority as a supplement to subsistence farming and an additional source of protein and cash is also hard hit, with immediate and devastating consequences for the farmers and the economy.

Many creeks and streams have dried up and villagers are forced to use alternative and unsafe sources of water. Poor water and sanitation facilities may contribute to an outburst of communicable diseases such as typhoid, cholera, and many other diarrheal diseases. Rural health centres lack the facilities to respond to a potential outbreak of diseases. Water shortages have also affected schools which are operating on a half day basis and experiencing lower student attendance.

One of the imminent consequences of the current drought and frost will be a flow of migration from rural to urban areas. PNG experienced a similar drought in 1972; however, the current effects of El Niño seem to surpass the devastation experienced in the past.

The team recommended an array of measures to prevent future losses such as the provision of food relief, seed distribution, food preservation awareness campaigns in affected communities, and use of drought and frost resistant and tolerant crops such as wheat.

IOM will continue to support the Government in its efforts to alleviate the adverse effects of El Niño in the Highlands. Wonesai Sithole, Disaster Management Coordinator, noted that IOM is planning to support the Government to ensure food security with the distribution of quick maturity food vines and organize information campaigns focusing on crop diversification.

With regard to water health and sanitation IOM is planning to organize health and hygiene, distribute water drums, assist with the drilling of bore holes and wells, distribute water purification tablets, and organize awareness campaigns regarding the effects and estimated duration of the drought.

For more information please contact George Gigauri at IOM PNG, Email: ggigauri@iom.int - Tel: +675 73200136

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