Australia urged to be ready to help PNG in drought

10:25 am on 23 September 2015
Southern Highlands, Papua New Guinea.

Southern Highlands, Papua New Guinea. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

An Australian senate inquiry into Canberra's aid programme in Papua New Guinea has been told the government should be ready to help the country deal with the effects of an El Nino event.

The chief executive of humanitarian aid agency CARE Australia, Julia Hewton-Howes, says it is closely monitoring the drought situation impacting on PNG's Highlands region.

She says CARE is concerned about people's access to food.

"We think that it will be important, despite the government of Papua New Guinea not yet requesting external assistance that Australia monitors the situation and is ready to help. We know that people died of starvation in the 1997/1998 drought and that Australian assistance was important, but there are lessons to be learned."

Julia Hewton-Howes says for a successful response, Australia must work out how to best get aid out to remote communities.

This comes two weeks after the provincial disaster coordinator in Chimbu province, Michael Ire Appa, told Radio New Zealand International of at least 24 unconfirmed deaths in his province, due to a lack of food and poisoned water.

And in late August, a specialist in Papua New Guinea agriculture and food said the droughts and frosts in the Highland provinces in particular have destroyed many of the country's essential food sources.

Mike Bourke said the drought would place a range of great strains on many communities.

"The biggest single thing is that many hundreds of thousands of people, households, are scavenging for food, eating food that they normally wouldn't eat. So people are eating unusual food, or they're eating things in quantities that they normally wouldn't eat. So, tremendously disruptive, tremendously stressful."

He said there are a range of other areas where the strain of the drought is severe, such as access to water, health and migration.