Papa New Guinea is devastated by drought

Il fenomeno El Niño, eccezionalmente intenso, ha provocato gravi danni alle colture. I contadini sono arrivati a mangiare argilla e funghi tossici pur di nutrirsi.

Rain doesn’t fall down and soil becomes more and more arid. Drought has been affecting Papua New Guinea for 4 months: 24 people have already died due to malnutrition and contaminated water.


Crops have been decimated due to combined effects of drought and frost caused by the El Niño © Jay Lomu/Care International


The drought hitting the country is a consequence of the climate cycle El Niño, which periodically heats the Pacific Ocean. This year’s phenomenon, according to meteorologists, is the worst cycle registered over the past 65 years. Even worse than the cycle between 1997 and 1998 that caused the death of 23,000 people.


Most isolated villagers, completely worn out, are eating toxic mushrooms and clay to fight hunger. Crops have been destroyed, water sources have been contaminated and medical and fuel supplies are exhausted.


International doctors working in the area pointed out the presence of forms of leprosy and suspected cases of cholera and typhus fever. “Animals are beginning to die and when we take some meat our bodies feel stomach pains, feel diarrhoea and weak bodies,” said a local doctor, Jimmy Nebni. “We are praying to God for help in this situation”.


A family leaving its mountain village of Kandep in the province of Enga, Papua New Guinea © Matthew Kanua / United Church PNG


An investigation into the effects of the drought, carried out by humanitarian association Uniting Church, has examined 30 villages  scattered through the highlands and has found that sweet potato crops have been decimated due to the combined effects of drought and frost since the El Niño began in April.


Sally Lloyd, Australian woman born in Papua New Guinea whose parents were missionaries, and member of the church community, has been long denouncing the crisis in the country. “I observed people eating clay. It’s a special type of clay. Birds and other animals eat it when there is no food. People break it and chew it, it helps with the hunger, and helps if they are feeling sick.”


The lack of food also led many people to eat toxic mushrooms. Indeed, many cases of comatose status have been registered in medical centres, as well as cases of diarrhoea and vomit.


The climate cycle El Niño is resonsible for the severe drought hitting Papua New Guinea © Shutterstock


Although recent rainfalls have relieved the situation in some areas, long-term forecasts are anything but encouraging: alert and food insecurity will last for months.

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