El Nino drought affects food security in PNG

PNG is presently into the peak of an intensified drought scenario ever witnessed in recent times. In August, communities have experienced low rainfall and prolonged dry spells, with accompanying frosts and wild fires, threatening food and water security for over half the population. The occurrences of frost in the high altitudes are reported to be some of the worst ever experienced.

In some communities, dry conditions set in as early as March and by June it was clear the drought had returned.

The first frost occurred on 19th July in Tambul and five more times since. This frost destroyed all the trials undertaken by this project at Kiripia and Alkena, especially on sweet potato.

frost tambul category 5

A frost destroyed sweet potato garden in Tambul, Western Highlands Province

According to the National Disaster Response Committee (August 18 update), more than 800, 000 people are severely affected in the following areas;

Two provinces in category 1 : Milne Bay and West New Britain Seven provinces in Category 2: Madang, East Sepik, West Sepik, Morobe, New Ireland, Gulf and Autonomous Region of Bougainville.

Eight provinces are in Category 3: Western Province, Eastern Highlands, East New Britain, Manus, Jiwaka, Western Highlands, Central, and  Oro, and

Four provinces are in Category 4: Simbu, WHP, Southern Highlands and Enga.

Many affected communities are consequently witnessing the wilting of garden crops with low household food supply, and shortage of clean water for drinking and domestic chores.


A farmer in Tambul standing next to his frost destroyed potato. Cabbaages were not affected.

Strong El Niño-induced droughts are the most immediate risk to PNG as a result of global climate change.

El Niño is a temporary change in the climate of the Pacific Ocean around the equator whereby the ocean surface warms causing trade winds to slacken and thunderstorms to move eastward into the centre of the pacific away from PNG – thus causing droughts.

The frequency and intensity of these events have increased significantly in the last century in parallel with the increases in global temperatures.

Situated on the Western Rim of the tropical Pacific, PNG has been and is vulnerable and this will continue to be so. Scientific evidence suggests that the 1997/1998 El Niño-induced drought was the strongest and worst scenario in living memory for PNG.

The current drought is yet to be intensified but the indicators are unimaginable.

Within the last decade, NARI has been campaigning on the need for climate change adaptation and particularly drought preparedness.

Several initiatives have been undertaken in selected communities across PNG and the Pacific – including this EUARD Project – with the imparting of relevant skills and distribution of seeds and planting materials.

The intentions were to foster preparedness through the adoption of coping strategies. including traditional coping mechanisms.



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