UN asked to do more for drought relief in PNG
As the impact of the drought in Papua New Guinea worsens the UN and other agencies have been asked to become more involved in helping the victims.
The United Nations and other international bodies are being asked to step up their assistance as the impact of frosts and a severe drought continue to impact large areas of Papua New Guinea.
The El Nino influenced drought is forecast to continue into 2016.
Hundreds of thousands of people are already in a stressed state according to PNG Government estimates and this will worsen unless there is consistent rainfall.
The United Nations' Development Programme's Country Director in PNG, Roy Trivedy, told Don Wiseman there has been some rain in the affected areas but nowhere near enough.
ROY TRIVEDY: We would need much more consistent rainfall over a period of time over much larger swathes of the country. Based on the information provided by the government, the best estimate is that there are at least 848,000 people currently who would still be classified as category four to five, which is a quite severe level of distress.
DON WISEMAN: What does it mean exactly?
RT: The worst case scenario could mean people have exhausted their own food supplies, are now basically looking to find other food supplies, either going to relatives, trying to eat foods that they wouldn't normally eat, during this period of time. Category five is the most severe, and they are starting to have to use sources of water that are not completely safe. Those are people we are worried about, concerned about, and we know there are people who need urgent support.
DW: Now there have been various reports that people have died. Do you have any information on that?
RT: It's very, very difficult to be specific on the causes of death. I know that colleagues at the department of health and our colleagues in the World Health Organisation are looking at every case that is reported, are also going to the health posts et cetera to try to get the latest data and so on. What we do know is that definitely there are areas of the country where people are starting to suffer from diarrhoeal diseases, and that is not a good sign. Of course whether that then leads to people dying, it's not always easy to tell exactly the cause of death. But we are concerned about the fact that if people do not receive relief items, if they don't have safe water, if they don't have access to food then we will start to see more illnesses. And we need to make sure that both in terms of water borne diseases and so on that we take preventative action as quickly as possible.
DW: I know that the PNG government has in the last few days stepped up its request of agencies like yours to step up your work.
RT: Yes. We had last week the minister of planning Charles Abel speaking at the UN day event that we were holding and he made it very clear that actually this is exactly the time when all of the international partners, the UN, but others too including the bilateral agencies and church-based organisations need to start to step up and actually increase the level of support that has been provided. We are working with government now, talking to them about exactly what this would mean. We have had colleagues here, over the last week and a half including over the weekend, looking particularly at supporting the department for agriculture and livestock to do further assessment work, also look at both what kind of support would be required, even if the rain comes, because people don't have seeds for planting, what kind of tools people need. So there's one side of the agriculture that's being looked at in quite a lot of detail and sometimes are being formulated on that. The second on that is also linked to that is support for farmers about advice on water conservation, mulching and so on. And some of that work has already started with the Food and Agricultural Organisation. The key area is the area of food security and logistics. For many people before we get to the planting stage people are actually short of food. In quite a few cases they have received some supplies but those are probably not enough if the situation continues over a prolonged spell. So we need to make sure that there is enough food in the right places et cetera to ensure that if we need to provide food relief with government and private sector support that we are well placed to do that.
DW: Now this figure of 848,000 you mentioned, is the expectation that that will increase?
RT: The 848,000 figure is based on the government's own assessments that were done more than a month ago now. Of course, we have been keeping tabs on those and that's why monitoring is essential. The 848,000 figure is based just on those first assessments and then taking into account a little bit of where has food been distributed at the moment. Keeping into account also where are we seeing some rains falling. But if the drought continues and to the best of my knowledge it is likely to continue for some time, even if we get sporadic rainfall or some rainfall in some parts, we've got to plan in a sense for the worst. So my best guess is that we are likely to see those figures increasing. And it's working on the basis that if those figures escalate, have we got the right provisions in the right quantities, in the right places, to be able to distribute food, also ensure there is safe drinking water and so on. And we are particularly concerned about those who are the most vulnerable, very young children, of course, many women, people who have got long-term illnesses, the disabled and so on. And there is in all of this the food distribution side, we are looking at UN systems to see how we can better support government to try and target a bit more clearly some of those most vulnerable people.
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