Desperate need for drought relief in PNG's Highlands

9:46 am on 25 September 2015

A disaster assessor says there is a desperate need for assistance in drought-affected parts of Papua New Guinea's Highlands region.

It comes as this and other regions of PNG have been struck by hundreds of fires in the past few days, with predictions the situation could worsen without rain.

In many parts of PNG's Highlands, severe frosts in August combined with the ongoing drought to place a huge strain on the agricultural livelihoods which sustain communities in most Highlands provinces.

There are around a million people estimated to be affected by the drought in this remote region.

Dry creek bed

Dry creek bed Photo: Supplied

But while the government made some ten million US dollars of relief assistance available last month, very little of it has reached those in need.

A disaster assessor Matthew Kanua has just completed a two-week assessment of Southern Highlands, Hela and Enga provinces, and says that in the higher altitudes especially, the drought has devastated the staple crop, sweet potato.

"There's no other cash crops, and they're very, very remote. The common denominator there is poverty and remoteness, so basically the drought and the combined effect with frost has basically decimated the agriculture, their livelihood."

Mr Kanua says food security is precarious and at a very advanced stage in many remote communities.

"If they don't get any supplies in the next two to four weeks, a lot more people will be moving out, I think. Some people have already migrated to other parts of the Highlands, and others who don't have relatives elsewhere are stuck there, which is a very desperate situation. They need to be assisted very, very quickly."

He confirms that effects of this drought have already been more intense than in the corresponding months of the last severe drought in 1997.

Matthew Kanua had been contracted by the United Church to assess the impact of the conditions in its church communities.

His assessments are intended to help the Church direct assistance to the worst-hit communities.

Mr Kanua says he is preparing to present his analysis in the coming days, also for organisations such as PNG's Institute of National Affairs.