1 Dec 2015

Food shortages in Vanuatu, PNG could last months

2:07 pm on 1 December 2015

An NGO with offices in Papua New Guinea's Eastern Highlands says a little rain has eased some of the drought pressure, but no enough to allow crop planting.

Dry creek bed

Dry creek bed Photo: Supplied

The highlands has been at the forefront of the months long drought resulting from El Nino weather conditions and which is now impacting across much of the country.

Care International's Blossom Gilmour, in the organisation's Goroka office, says with the rain the tension around water has subsided a little bit.

But she says the long term forecast is still bleak, and that means concerns around food security will remain for some months.

"Normally people would have planted back in July and be eating those crops now, whereas they haven't been able to do that, so they are running out, in the near future, food that they planted quite a while ago. And so until they are able to plant those crops and the three to five months that it takes for those crops to mature and they are able to harvest, that is where there is going to be the gap."

World Vision says it has brought in technical experts to PNG to try and improve long term resilience to disasters like drought.

Its New Zealand programme manager, Lindsey Ruffolo, says they are carrying out assessment of water and sanitation needs, or WASH, using technicians from Jordan, Sri Lanka and Ethiopia.

She says they want to make more than a short term impact.

"Making sure that whatever the interventions are that are introduced, are not just a short term one-off, but can continue to provide for that community in the longer term. So instead of a quick distribution, looking at where it is necessary to put piping in for water sources, or to drill or produce a shallow well or something along those lines."

Rebuild kits being distributed on Tanna in Vanuatu by Care International.

Rebuild kits being distributed on Tanna in Vanuatu by Care International. Photo: RNZI Courtesy of Care International

An aid campaigner says food shortages in Vanuatu brought about by Cyclone Pam and an ongoing drought could also last to the end of next year.

World Vision's Dominica Leonard was in Tanna Island last month.

She says Tanna is facing a bleak time.

Ms Leonard says initially crops were destroyed by the cyclone while subequent plantings have been stymied by a lack of water and rock hard ground caused by the drought.

"What they need at the moment is food and water. Medical supplies are also important. There are a lot of clinics that I visited that were noting a large increase in cases of water borne diseases, such as diarrhoea and malnutrition, and some of those stocks are available but some need to be supplied, and so that is where we really need the public support to provide that."

Ms Leonard says on Tanna water tank levels are now very low and so there is little food production.

"I went in the middle of what's known as mango season when there should be mangoes everywhere and there were none at all. The cyclone ripped those out, there were no bananas in the trees, and coconuts are four times the normal price. They were already struggling with food shortages because of Cyclone Pam and now the El Nino sun means that crops aren't growing or they are growing very small."

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