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.
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.
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.