[Documents menu]History of Papua New Guinea and occupied West PNG
7 January 1998 Date: Wed, 7 Jan 1998 16:24:27 -0500
Sender: Southeast Asia Discussion List <SEASIA-L@msu.edu>
From: Alex G Bardsley <bardsley@ACCESS.DIGEX.NET>
Subject: Fwd: PNG: 25% face starvation (SCMP)

25% of population face starvation in drought

From Agence France-Presse,
in the South China Morning Post
7 January 1998

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE in Sydney - More than a quarter of Papua New Guinea's population is facing starvation because of the country's drought and the worst is yet to come, according to new Australian research.

In December, the number of people badly affected by the drought doubled to more than one million from three months earlier, the Australian Agency for International Development says in a report due to be released tomorrow.

One of the report's authors, who released details yesterday, said the figure would jump again, with the population of four million facing worse conditions in the next two months. "The worst is about to happen, " said Mike Bourke, an agronomist at Australian National University.

Mr Bourke also backed up earlier reports that the crisis had been aggravated by bungled handling by the Government.

He said much of the food bought by the administration for drought relief had been kept in provincial capitals and away from the worst affected areas.

The Government budgeted money to buy the food, Mr Bourke said, but had not allocated money to transport it to areas in need.

The ranks of the worst affected, those now reliant on foraging for wild food for their survival, swelled from 98,000 in September to 261,000 last month, according to the report.

Those numbers are forecast to more than double to 540,000 people next month.

However, the Pacific islands had received some rain in the last few months, allowing people in rural areas who relied on subsistence farming for much of their food to plant crops such as sweet potatoes, Mr Bourke said.

But those crops would not be harvestable until May at the earliest, he said, and could wither if rural areas did not receive more rain in the coming months.

"The expectation at the moment is that normal rainfall will return in May. But if there's no follow-up rain in the next few months those crops will fail. "

The Australian aid agency has been feeding about 60,000 people affected by the drought. But the agency had focused its efforts on areas accessible by air, Mr Bourke said, and much more help was needed.

The report urges Australia to ship potato and maize seedlings to its northern neighbour. Both those crops would be quicker to reach harvest than those usually planted in the drought-hit areas.

The drought survey was funded by the Australian Agency for International Development and commissioned by the Papua New Guinea Government.

It was carried out by Australian research teams during a three-week trip to the country late last year.

[40]Copyright 1998 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd.
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