PNG prepares for another possible El Niño phase

6:44 pm on 31 May 2017

Disaster management officers in Papua New Guinea are preparing for another possible El Niño climate phase.

A father holds his malnourished son in Western Province, Papua New Guinea.

A father holds his malnourished son in Western Province, Papua New Guinea, early 2016. Photo: Sally Lloyd

It's been around a year since the end of the previous El Niño event which impacted heavily on PNG and other countries in the Western Pacific.

In PNG, the 2015 and 2016 phase caused widespread drought and frost, affecting an estimated 2.4 million people, or around 40 percent of the population, according to the National Disaster Centre.

Most of these people were impacted by severe food shortages, while incidences of communicable disease increased as water shortages worsened.

Furthermore, many schools were forced to close due to water shortages, and many businesses suffered significant losses.

Yahoma, Kandep Valley, Enga Province, Papua New Guinea

Yahoma, Kandep Valley, Enga Province, Papua New Guinea Photo: Supplied

This week, disaster risk management and government stakeholders held a two day workshop to prepare for a potential El Niño event in August which could bring drier-than-normal conditions to PNG.

This comes after several global and regional climate agencies predicted a potential occurrence of El Niño in the second half of 2017.

Based on these reports, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, has indicated a 50 percent likelihood of a return to El Niño conditions by August 2017.

Along with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the OCHA organised the El Niño Early Action Planning Workshop in Port Moresby, overseen by the National Disaster Centre.

Participants considered potential impacts of the projected El Niño event and developed a common strategy and action plan aimed at managing potential risks.

They also identified emergency response priorities.

Martin Mose, acting director of the Papua New Guinea National Disaster Centre.

Martin Mose, acting director of the Papua New Guinea National Disaster Centre. Photo: Kim Allen/UNDP

The Centre's acting director Martin Mose said their planning for a possible, upcoming El Niño event drew on their common experiences from the 2015 and 2016 phase.

"The formulation of a common strategy and action plan will allow our partners to align all their efforts in support of the PNG Government's priorities and this will be based on likely impacted locations and sectors," he said.

According to the UNDP's PNG representative Roy Trivedy, preparation was of utmost importance in the face of this potential climate event.

"If we return to El Niño conditions without adequate preparations... that could lead to significant and severe humanitarian impacts especially as many vulnerable communities are still recovering from the 2015/16 El Niño event," he said.

The United Nations Development Programme's Papua New Guinea country officer, and the UN Resident Coordinator, Roy Trivedy.

The United Nations Development Programme's Papua New Guinea country officer, and the UN Resident Coordinator, Roy Trivedy. Photo: Kim Allen/UNDP

"As such, it's vital that a timely and well co-ordinated early action approach involving key stakeholders is adopted and I congratulate all the stakeholders, especially the Government of PNG, for coming together today to drive this process forward."

According to a UNDP press release, following the workshop, disaster risk management and humanitarian partners will, in close coordination with the National Disaster Centre, commence immediate risk management and preparedness activities.

These agencies would continue to closely monitor the evolving El Niño projection.

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