Papua New Guinea drought: A desperate need for food in drought-ravaged Western Province

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Amid reports of drought-related deaths in PNG's Western Province, the country's Government admits some remote areas have received no relief since the start of the El Nino-driven disaster in the middle of 2015.

Reports of drought-related deaths in Papua New Guinea's Western Province will be investigated by the Prime Minister's Office after the Government admitted some remote areas have received no relief since the start of the El Nino-driven disaster in the middle of 2015.

The probe was sparked by Australian woman Sally Lloyd, who grew up in a remote mission station in Western Province, when she presented evidence of the situation to disaster officials in the country's capital, Port Moresby.

While logistical problems have made deliveries to the remote province difficult, the Government says urgent relief supplies are on their way.

Ms Lloyd grew up at the mission station of Mougulu, the daughter of missionaries who still work in the area.

She travels regularly to Mougulu from Brisbane, where the villagers call her their sister.

On her most recent trip there, Ms Lloyd had a first-hand look at the El Nino-induced drought that is wreaking havoc across the province and the rest of PNG.

"The lack of rainfall has really just meant that their crops have been wiped out," she said.

"For quite a few months, including September and October, November, they had virtually no rain. Just a couple of tiny scattered showers.

"So as soon as the crops failed then they don't get to eat."

At a small community health sub-centre in Mougulu, Ms Lloyd says the impacts of those food and water shortages were devastating for children and expectant mothers.

"One woman was very weak and trying to find food in the bush. She fainted and actually fell down a cliff, she split her head open," she said.

While Ms Lloyd was helping out at the clinic, a woman in labour with twins walked two days from Adumari Village for medical help.

Remote areas feel forgotten

Margaret Hagobai's daughter died after a breech birth but her boy twin lived.

"The death of the first child we actually related to the lack of food that she had, she just was very, very malnourished," Ms Lloyd said.

Even though emergency relief supplies have been sent to many drought-affected areas, none have reached Mogulu.

Ms Lloyd says the people of Mougulu feel like they have been forgotten.

"They'd received no drought supplies at all. The only relief they've received is a very minimal amount of rice or things that we've been able to fly in," she said.

"But I stress that that's minimal, and just in the past couple of weeks.

"They're at a point where they're really quite frustrated. They just want to know why they can't receive the same help that other people do."

Papua New Guinea's disaster officials first became aware of the situation in Western Province after Ms Lloyd gave a presentation at a recent drought meeting in Port Moresby.

Roy Trivedy, the United Nations' resident coordinator in PNG, was at that forum.

"It was a little bit shocking to be honest to see some of the images that are starting to come from those areas. It is an area which needs urgent assistance," he said.

The Government has since announced it will investigate claims of drought-related deaths in Western Province, and will aim to send supplies out to remote areas from nearby provincial hubs.

"[The] Government is trying to do more to try and get the supplies that are now in Kiunga out to some of the more remote areas," Mr Trivedy said.

"[It's] also looking at what more could be done, what are the other ways into that particular area, perhaps from Tari, flying some amount of supplies down.

"But this is an extremely costly operation and we've got colleagues from the World Food Program, as well as DFAT Australia, trying to support that initiative."

Trevor Meauri, the deputy secretary of the PNG Prime Minister's Office, said the Australian Government was helping with the emergency.

"The situation in Western Province is quite difficult for us because it's a vast stretch of wasteland, if you like, people are spread over long distances," he said.

"A lot of the airfields are not operational so we had to fly people in to assess the conditions on the ground — if the plane could actually land with the supplies. That's something that the Australian Government is assessing.

"Either [Thursday] or over the weekend, the supplies will start reaching [Western Province]."

Australian Broadcasting Corporation