Frost and drought strikes Papua New Guinea

Aug 26, 2015

Photo credit- International Organization for Migration.

As of 12 August, PNG’s National Weather Service (NWS) has determined that the El Niño has fully developed and it will continue to strengthen and expected to last until March 2016 with its intensity being likely to peak in September 2015. NWS expects the current El Niño’s effect to surpass the 1997/98 El Niño event that adversely impacting approximately 3 million people.


To date, the most severely affected provinces are Simbu (Chimbu), Southern Highlands, Enga, Eastern Highlands, Western Highlands provinces which also contain a high concentration of rural population. Recent media reports indicate that the drought and frost has destroyed wide tracts of food gardens and plantations while traditional water sources such as local streams and rivers have seen levels significantly reduced. Reports received from the provinces indicate that main staple foods like sweet potato and other tuber crops been stunted in size or completely destroyed.  Families are struggling to maintain food supplies as most of their farms and gardens have already been destroyed. Reports from the media and partners on ground, confirm that drought has led to more reliable drinking water sources drying up fast forcing people to use water from unsafe sources thereby leading to health problems. A recent estimate by PNG’s National Disaster Centre (NDC) indicates that approximately one million people (of a population of 7.5 million) have been affected by drought and frost conditions. There are also reports of up to ten deaths reportedly associated with sickness and malnourishment brought on by El Niño (not verified).


The governor of Southern Highlands province has declared a state of emergency while other highlands provinces are also contemplating doing so. There have also been reports of schools shutting down and hospitals and health centres scaling down their operations due to water shortage. OK Tedi Mining Limited announced closing the mine because of low water levels on the Fly River, which is used to transport copper concentrate to Port Moresby. It is estimated that this will result in up to PNG 2 billion Kina in lost revenues.


In addition, there is grave concern about potential knock-on impacts. Severe food insecurity could potentially result in displacement of large numbers 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. There are reports that people in the highlands have started moving in with their relatives. In Port Moresby, reduced water levels at Sirinumu Dam is at risk of threatening the city’s main source of water and power generation.


K5 million has been received by the NDC and is ready to be used for assessments and to provide immediate relief. Of the K5 Million, K2 million has been used to purchase emergency relief rations in the highlands (basic food supplies) for 4 provinces. These supplies will be assigned to provincial authorities for distribution.


The National Disaster Response Committee will dispatch 4 teams to assess the current situation. The UN and PNG Red Cross was invited to participate in the assessments as well. The first team was dispatched yesterday to assess the worst affected areas in the Highlands. The team will travel to Jiwaka, Enga, Simbu, and Goroka. Wonesai (IOM) is participating in the first assessment team. The report for the initial assessment for the Highlands is expected to be ready in 2 weeks.


UNDP has made available funding to NDC for use in the promulgation of public information around household coping measures. Clusters have been undertaking review of preparedness. Information on DMT prepositioned stocks and humanitarian partners’ capacity assessments are also being refreshed. Many humanitarian partners have been proactively sharing updates from field staff on the developing situation and volunteering to conduct informal assessment in areas where the assessment teams are unable to cover.  

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