PNG Suf­fer­ing Amid Se­vere Food Short­age

Thou­sands of Pa­pua New Guineans re­main at risk of mal­nu­tri­tion and dis­ease be­cause of the lin­ger­ing ef­fects of drought, aid groups say.

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Since the mid­dle of last year, PNG has been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing its most se­vere El Nino-in­duced drought since 1997-1998. Rain in many parts of the coun­try helped fill water­ways and re­plen­ish some of the sub­sis­tence crops vil­lagers rely on for food, but aid groups and re­searchers have said the rain also trig­gered a dan­ger­ous phase of the drought. Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity agri­cul­tural scientist Mike Bourke said more peo­ple died af­ter the rain came than dur­ing the drought be­cause they started farm­ing again while weak from mal­nu­tri­tion and dis­ease.

“It’s when things get most dif­fi­cult for peo­ple. Peo­ple still don’t have food just be­cause it rains,” he said.

“It’s more dif­fi­cult. The dis­ease level is very high. The dis­ease rates are very high be­cause peo­ple are more vul­ner­a­ble.” It is un­clear how many peo­ple have died as a di­rect re­sult of the drought, be­cause many deaths in small vil­lages are not for­mally recorded, and be­cause mor­tal­ity rates are al­ready high in PNG’s re­mote ar­eas. How­ever, churches and health cen­tres have re­ported an in­crease in deaths from mal­nu­tri­tion and dis­ease in smaller com­mu­ni­ties that they di­rectly at­tribute to the drought.

Dis­as­ter co-or­di­na­tion worker with the United Church in Hela Prov­ince in the PNG High­lands, James Komengi, said chil­dren in par­tic­u­lar were still suf­fer­ing from the drought’s ef­fects.

“We are see­ing lit­tle kids in class­rooms telling us they are faint­ing, and di­ar­rhoea is com­mon be­cause they are eat­ing wild foods as well,” he said.

Photo: ABC

Ex­perts say the rain has trig­gered a dan­ger­ous phase of the drought where peo­ple be­come sick be­cause they start farm­ing again

while weak from mal­nu­tri­tion and dis­ease.

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