The situation The National Weather Service (NWS) on 7 August 2015 declared the country will be experiencing a severe El Nino event, which is forecasted to continue for 8 – 10 months with reduced rainfall in all parts of the country. The situation is expected to be the worst since the 1997/98 drought. The National Disaster Centre (NDC) estimated that 2 million people are affected. The Provincial Disaster Center (PDC) of Chimbu Province reported 24 people confirmed dead as a result of prolonged drought in the Highlands region.
Papua New Guinea (PNG) has been experiencing a prolonged dry spell since May 2015. The normal rainfall expected in November is now not expected until first half of 2016. This is likely to coincide with the start of the dry season in May, which usually lasts until October. These seasons vary throughout PNG and are considered more pronounced in the Port Moresby area and less so in the northern areas of the country.1 The most affected areas in the country were Kandep and Sirunki in Enga, Lalibu-Pangia and Upper Mendi (Southern Highlands), Tambul (Western Highlands), Menyamya (Morobe), Kundiawa-Gembogl, SinasinaYongomugl, Gumine, Chuave, Nomane, and Kerowagi (Chimbu), Unggai-Bena and Henganofi (Eastern Highlands), Rabaul and Kokopo (East New Britain), Goilala (Central), and Manus.2 The impact of El Nino is being felt in Madang, East and West Sepik Provinces, New Ireland, and Oro Provinces.
Parts of Manam and Karkar Islands in Madang have already reported long dry period, and similar situation is being observed in other parts of the country.
The drought particularly impacted the hospital operations in Kundiawa of Chimbu Province and the mines operation along River Fly of Western Highlands Province. The Enga Province (300,000 population is experiencing the worst frost in 40 years. There are concerns over water and garden food shortages. While majority of food crops (sweet potato and potato gardens), plants and trees are destroyed and creeks and rivers are also drying up in agricultural hub of Tambul district of Western Highlands Province. Bush fires are also reported in some areas. These regions of the country are agriculturally rich and some of the biggest suppliers of fresh vegetables. This is already being felt in urban areas which rely on supplies from the highlands farms, as shortages of sweet potato that have been reported in Lae. Severe frost has also been reported in Southern Highlands Province (Lalibu, Nipa, Mongol) and Central (Kosipe, Goilala) damaging both food crops and vegetation.3
Provinces with large areas of high intensity agricultural land use and that have been severely affected by belowaverage rainfall include Enga, Chimbu, Eastern Highlands, Western Highlands and Southern Highlands. Severe food insecurity could potentially result in displacement of large number of affected populations leading to breakdown of law and order, widespread inter-tribal conflicts over scarce resources and a spike in incidents of gender-based violence.The 3rd National Disaster Response Committee (NDRC) meeting was convened on 18 August and attended by representatives from the Government Technical Agencies, UN and the Papua New Guinea Red Cross Society (PNGRCS). The NDC’s summary updates revealed that almost all of the Highlands Provinces are on Category 3 and 4 of the Government’s Drought response category. This indicates that conditions are difficult with reduced food availability and security, with some famine food being eaten, and water available only at distance. There are reports of babies and elderly people becoming ill as a result of the severe drought. The coastal provinces are less affected during the reporting period.
It has been reported that streams and rivers that were used as primary water sources have dried up. Population in affected areas are resorting to secondary water sources (traditionally used for washing and bathing) as drinking water and in food preparation. This increases the risk of diarrhoea and typhoid already prevalent in PNG. Diarrhoea is a major cause of morbidity in the country, and deaths associated to poor WASH access and practices are estimated at 6,164 per year.Access to safe water and improved sanitation in PNG is and has been an on-going challenge. UNICEF in 2011 stated that access to improved sanitation in PNG is estimated to be at 19% (compared to world average of 64%) and access to water at 40% (world average 89%). Furthermore, distance between houses and available water sources is increasing, which puts women who are primarily responsible for managing household water at a particular risk.
According to the PNG WASH Policy 2015-2030, the Provincial and District Administrators are responsible for planning and delivering WASH infrastructure and services to the communities with funding and support from the development partners. NGOs are stated to be the implementers of rural and peri-urban WaSH programmes. It is expected that humanitarian partners will play a large part in the response in particular in areas of rural WaSH.
The National Weather Service (NWS) has urged all stakeholders to plan their response for the entire country and not specific to one particular region. The government is exploring solutions to address the water shortage.
The National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) also advised that the food production will be low and financial support from the government is required for rapid multiplication of drought tolerant crops and distribution.