- This report presents the results of an evaluation of the Australian Government’s response to the 2015 El Niño drought and frosts in PNG conducted by an independent consultant in August 2017.
The evaluation focus is Australia’s humanitarian investments in response from September 2015 to 30 June 2017. Three evaluation questions were agreed with the consultant:
Was Australia’s humanitarian assistance to affected populations in the PNG El Niño drought appropriate, timely and effective?
Was Australia’s humanitarian assistance to areas of protracted drought well planned and efficient?
How and to what extent did Australia’s response to El Niño in PNG contribute to resilience and national and local leadership and capacity?
- The methodology included a desktop review of documents, interviews with internal and external stakeholders involved in implementing Australia’s response, and fieldwork in PNG including stakeholder interviews and meetings with implementing partners in Port Moresby, Lae, Mt Hagen, Goroka, Alotau and Kiunga, and visits to affected communities in Tambul (Western Highlands), Henganofi (Eastern Highlands) and Oksapmin (West Sepik).
Responses to El Niño impacts
By early April 2015 climate scientists, including from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, were reporting on the likelihood of a severe El Niño event, moving from the eastern Pacific westwards.
In fact, there was reduced rainfall in many areas of PNG from April 2015 and a major drought subsequently took hold. Reduced cloud cover in high altitude locations in July-August led to damaging frosts. The impacts on the rural population included reduced access to clean drinking water and staple foods and resultant health problems. Although there are no accurate statistics, it is likely there was an increase is all-causes mortality because the health status of many of those affected would have deteriorated making them more vulnerable to morbidity and mortality.
The PNG Government response was relatively quick in terms of conducting a broad needs assessment and making initial procurements of rice; but it was unconventional. The rice was channelled through MPs with little reference to the National Disaster Centre or sub-national authorities, and there was a paucity of information about what was distributed where and when.
Given the high underlying wasting rate and anecdotal reports of drought related mortality, rapid food security and nutrition assessments as per SPHERE standards should have been undertaken.
Appropriately, Government took the lead, mounting essentially crop damage assessments, but this left little room for UN and donors to mount standardised assessments. In hindsight, there should have been a concerted effort to do so because in their absence uncertainty remained about the seriousness and specificity of El Niño impacts through the fourth quarter of 2015 and into 2016.
Despite the early warning that the 2015 El Niño may be more severe than 1997-98, it took DFAT some months to focus on the crisis and along with other donors the bulk of assistance was delayed until 2016. Contributing factors included the slow release of the Government assessment reports and their lack of specificity; the decision of the PNG Government not to request assistance; and the lack of information about the scale and distribution of Government procured rice.
The Australian Government was the largest donor expending approx. A$8 million ($7,984,174 including $5,464,174 from the PNG Program and $2,520,000 from HPD Canberra). The four largest investments in the ‘package’ (80% of the total) included funding to: a) CARE, Oxfam and World Vision for WASH, public health, and agricultural recovery and resilience building activities in the Highlands; b) logistics support to airlift government rice to Oksapmin in West Sepik Province, and to ship rice donated by the Ok Tedi Development Foundation to Western Province and then airlift some of this rice to Morehead and Bamu; c) the Church Partnership Program mainly for recruiting and paying the salaries and costs of disaster response coordinators; and d) the National Agriculture Research Institute mainly for planting material and seeds for agricultural recovery and resilience.