Going from one disaster to another

Editorial, Normal

The National, Thursday January 21st, 2016

 RURAL people throughout the country may be relieved at the advent of the monsoonal rains but there are many more who have yet to fully recover from the long drought just ended. 

Recovery of food supplies and normal life may take a few more months, even years.

We may not even know the full extent of devastation wrought by the El-Nino induced drought for a long time, maybe never.

As we have reported in yesterday’s publication, men, women and children are starving and dying because of the drought in the remote Nomad area of Western with no government assistance whatsoever.

And their story was told by Australian Sally Lloyd whose missionary parents had raised her and her siblings among these isolated people.

She told our reporter of shocking stories about people starving and dying and captured some of it in pictures.

Lloyd was asked by the people to visit them after not receiving any government assistance since the start of the El Nino-induced drought.

“When I went back to Mougulu (one of the communities) , on January 1, I went to market and I would estimate a few thousand people were there milling around and there was one pumpkin, a couple of raw bundles of greens, one bundle of beans and that was it,” she says.

“You can understand that people were quite upset and that’s been ongoing for some time, not just at that one particular market. 

“People were asking why this is happening, is the world coming to an end, as their crops are failing as well as the drought that’s used up all their food.

“They’re in a situation where they don’t know what to do about it

Health workers there have reported an increase in the number of people fainting from hunger and Lloyd was even told of people eating poisonous mushrooms and getting sick. 

 “There is at least one case of one man dying but there are quite a number of people losing consciousness, including one man who had to be sedated for a number of days because it made him a bit mad. They are really desperate that they’ll eat anything.”

For these people, as revealed by Lloyd, the end of the drought and the beginning of the wet season only meant reeling from one disaster to another. 

The rains have allowed planting but any food that is grown is infected by insects or rats.

Bananas, their staple crop, is growing up and dying before the fruit matures because of an insect infestation. 

A similar situation arose in the area following the 1997 drought. 

The Government had responded as best as it could at the height of the drought by allocating money for relief supplies to districts.

But given the enormity of the problem – the size of the affected population and transportation costs – it was truly impossible to reach every person in need.

As a result many have died. 

And it is not only in the Western province.  

There could be similar situations in other parts of the country.  

In the case of Western province the Prime Minister’s Department has admitted that parts of the province have not been receiving food supplies since the drought began because of the logistical nightmare in transporting these. 

Shipping relief supplies up the Fly to Kiunga was impossible because of the drop in the water level.

Deputy Secretary Trevor Meauri, who is in charge of drought relief, when asked to comment on the reports of people starving dying in the Nomad district, admitted that relief supplies have not been reaching the people there.

The situation in the area calls for urgent government help.  

If there are still relief supplies sitting in a warehouse of shipping yard somewhere in Port Moresby or Daru, they must be disbursed now.

We acknowledge the Prime Minister’s department has undertaken to investigate of death and starvation in the area.

A team of experts should also visit the area to determine what kind of insects or diseases are responsible for failing crops. 

That will, in the long run, help communities to minimise or eradicate pests and protect their food crops.