Erratic food distribution to desperate PNGers
An NGO that's been working in drought affected Papua New Guinea, says the government's system of distributing food relief is erratic.
An NGO that's been working in drought affected Papua New Guinea says the government's system of distributing food relief is erratic.
The principal executive for international programs with CARE Australia, was recently in the eastern highlands province to oversee the work its teams are doing to distribute emergency relief supplies.
Paul Kelly says its main focus is on the provision of water containers, purification tablets, seeds, and also delivering health promotion messages.
Bridget Tunnicliffe asked him how bad the situation is.
PAUL KELLY: The predictions were that this would be one of the most serious El Nino events and then the most severe drought. People were equating it to the severe drought that PNG experienced in 1997. When I was there it was raining in the Highlands and it had been raining in some areas since late December. So that has perhaps changed somewhat some of the needs about access to water but things are still very severe so families had their gardens and their crops destroyed. Communities that we were talking to at the end of last year were expecting that they would run out of their food stocks and by around this time they would've been desperately hungry. So while the rain has provided perhaps a little better access to water there are still major concerns about people's ability to get food.
BRIDGET TUNNICLIFFE: Were you able to get an idea of the situation in the Western Highlands?
PK: We don't currently have a presence in the Western Highlands but we do understand and I have heard and seen reports also that perhaps some of the most severely affected areas are indeed in the Western Highlands and our office in PNG has been talking to some other partners about possibly having funding so that we can also extend some of our work into the Western Highlands.
BT: You talked about getting supplies out to people, are they supplies from charities and NGOs, or government supplies or a mix of both?
PK: The funding that CARE Australia has to provide our assistance has come from the Australian government and that's through a humanitarian partnership arrangement that we have with the Australian government and so the funding that we've had, the government has asked us to focus on support around water needs.
BT: Were you able to see evidence of supplies getting out to these people that were coming or being organised by the Papua New Guinea government itself?
PK: It's been hard to see, we were able to make assessments in the later part of last year and these were the assessments that informed our discussions with the PNG government about what we were seeing and what the needs were and indeed the Australian government and in part that's where the funding from the Australian government originated from. The benefit for us now in being able to provide the assistance is to get back to some of those communities now and really see how they're faring in the months since we were there and what we want to do is make sure that we're able to bring the information about where the needs are, what is getting through and where some of the problems are back to the PNG government and other partners to make sure that the efforts that are ongoing are coordinated and so that the assistance gets to those that are most in need.
BT: Do you think the agencies, and charities, and government are talking to each other, is it well coordinated?
PK: I think there's challenges in a country like PNG, in the areas that we are working in, I mean they're disperse and they're remote and information is very patchy so there are natural challenges in PNG. I think it is important that the PNG government has said it wants to lead the effort and it's important for partners to make sure that we are ensuring that the PNG government is actually in the centre then of understanding where the needs are and making sure they're clear about how the government with its partners are responding. So there are coordination mechanisms that are based out of Port Moresby, CARE Australia is participating in those and we will continue to make sure that the information we're getting is fed in to those relevant bodies and so that the people who need to make decisions have the information they need to act.
BT: If people's crops have been destroyed, they're going to need support for quite a few months aren't they?
PK: That's right, while there has been rain and we have seen that people have started to replant gardens. So what we're seeing now is people do have access to perhaps leafy foods but that of course is not the substance that they need the carbohydrates that they need from crops such as sweet potato or bananas that they might plant. And so all of us know when we plant our own gardens that those gardens won't grow now and won't provide a harvest for three to four months so many communities are hungry now. There may well be communities that are starving and so the needs right now are still acute.
BT: You know if some communities, there are people starving, does this require more from the PNG government, like actually getting in helicopters and dropping off supplies?
PK: I'm not fully informed about the full extent of what the PNG government has been able to do. One of the things
the government said it would do is take responsibility for leading on the provision of food and it wanted to do that through the funds that are provided to members of parliament who are directly responsible for these funds. Now that system has been patchy it's hard to see a uniform application of the provision of food for example through the MPs across PNG. What we're wanting to do in our response efforts is to try to align as much as we can and support the efforts of those MPs but again to date it's been difficult to make sure that we're aligned, it's been a bit patchy. And the important thing again as I say for us is to be able to come back from the field now and with updated information and make sure that the authorities and the responsibilities are very clear about what's getting through and who needs to act on where the needs are.
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