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article imagePapua New Guinea facing drought and water shortages from El Nino

By Karen Graham     Aug 19, 2015 in World
Papua New Guinea has been hit by the worst frost in over 40 years, affecting 300,000 people, as El Nino continues to wreak havoc, bringing drought and Tasmania-like temperatures to the normally tropical region.
Speaking at a news conference today, the Director for PNG National Weather Service Mr. Samuel Maiha said the country is in El-Nino now and is going to be affected very severely over the next four months.
Maiha added that indicators confirm the adverse conditions will last well into March or April and possibly, even May of 2016. The tropical highlands of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands are experiencing frosts and cold winds that have already devastated families food crops, killing everything from the islands' staple, the sweet potato, to cabbage, lettuce and English potatoes, reports ABC.net.au.
Mr. Maiha also pointed out that with little or no rainfall, far greater areas will become dry, with 85 percent of the population facing water shortages, a poor planting season and an increase in disease outbreaks.
The Enga province administrator, Samson Amean called a meeting with the PNG provincial disaster and emergency committee on Monday after finding out hundreds of families are now without any food crops for months to come.
Governor William Powi of the Southern Highlands province declared a state of emergency because of the disaster. Dr. Amean said many people in the highlands have already started moving to lower altitudes where they have relatives.
In the East New Britain province, water has become so scarce that people are getting water from the Warongoi River, a water source possibly contaminated by a cyanide spill at the nearby Sinivit mining site. Officials confirm many dead fish have been seen, and a number of people have fallen ill after eating them. The spill occurred many months ago, and provincial leaders are still waiting for test results.
PNG government promises aid
The PNG government is promising immediate disaster funds for the affected population. At the same time, they are defending their decision on a ban of limited agricultural produce imports. All this is going on as the country battles the effects of El Nino and a severe lack of infrastructure.
Some have criticised the ban, saying transportation and storage infrastructure has left farmers unprepared for the increased demand. But now, with the country in dire straits because of El Nino, the ban is laughable. NG Minister for Agriculture and Livestock Tommy Tomscoll dismissed critics, and actually downplayed the severe drought.
Tomscoll was quoted by Xinhua as saying the drought "is only for a short term, but the ban is a long-term relief for the farmers in terms of markets that will become available to sell their produce." He added, "These are not crops that take you long to grow. They are not like coffee and cocoa, it will take you two months to grow and harvest within two months."
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