El Nino-driven drought and frosts are threatening food security and water supplies across the Pacific region, with Papua New Guinea (PNG) hardest hit.
The current El Nino cycle is predicted to match or surpass the severity of the 1997 El Nino cycle which caused severe drought conditions, affecting over 40 per cent of the PNG population.
Agriculture accounts for 30-40 per cent of PNG’s GDP, while the industry employs up to 80 per cent of the country’s labour force. This means the current and forecasted El Nino weather conditions are likely to significantly impact livelihoods.
Worst frost in 40 years
Enga Province in northern PNG is reporting the worst frost in 40 years. The affected area is home to around 300,000 people, with many reporting damage to their crops – often their primary source of food.
Entire food gardens have been destroyed by the frost, with families seeking food and shelter in lower altitude and urban areas. Families are already feeling the impact of the frost on their crops, with fears that severe food and water shortages will soon follow.
CARE PNG Assistant Country Director: “I’ve never seen anything like it”
El Nino weather effects have also been impacting populations in the Western Highlands Province. CARE PNG’s Assistant Country Director Blossum Gilmour says “I’ve never seen anything like it here in the highlands … But we know the same thing happened during the devastating El Nino experience in 1997.”
“PNG is especially vulnerable given that around 80 per cent of food consumed in the country is grown in this region.”
Schools closed due to water shortages
In northern Morobe Province where CARE is operational, local staff are reporting communities are already experiencing water shortages.
People are travelling long distances to fetch clean cooking and drinking water. In Goroka, Eastern Highlands Province the majority of schools are either partially or completely closed due to water shortages.
How CARE is helping
CARE PNG is currently conducting an assessment of the situation, with emergency teams ready to respond pending the outcome of these assessments.
Assistance to mitigate impacts of intense frosts and potential lack of water are critical at this stage. CARE is raising awareness in communities of the importance of planting drought-tolerant crops, careful storage of food crops, savings plans to purchase food if they are unable to grow their own and good water, hygiene and sanitation practises.
CARE in PNG
CARE has been working in PNG since 1989, assisting remote communities through emergency response, water, sanitation and hygiene, sexual, reproductive and maternal health and women’s economic empowerment projects.
CARE PNG has 110 local and international staff, working primarily in four provinces: Eastern Highlands, Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Chimbu and Morobe.
You can assist communities affected by disaster by donating to CARE’s El Nino Crisis Appeal.