Photo: CARE
Readers of the Aus-PNG Network are no doubt aware of the current El Niño-driven drought in PNG, one of the worst droughts in the nation’s history. The drought has had a major impact on water and food supply in many parts of PNG, with negative impacts on school operations, women’s labour and villagers’ health. One of the most challenging aspects of the drought, beyond the lack of coordinated response to assist suffering Papua New Guineans, is that there simply isn’t enough information on the scale and impact of the drought, not to mention what areas of PNG are the worst affected. Below we have compiled a reading list for those interested in the drought to read more about what is happening on the ground.

  • The most comprehensive study of the impact of the drought can be found in this Policy Brief from ANU academics R.M. Bourke, Bryant Allen and Michael Lowe. The most compelling part of the brief is the map of PNG where the authors have highlighted the areas in most need from extreme to unusually dry, reproduced below. A summary blog of their impact study is also available here.

  • The map shows that clearly certain areas of PNG are suffering more than others, which throws into question the PNG Government’s response to the drought of directing all MPs to allocate a proportion of the District Services Improvement Program (DSIP) funding to drought relief. Academics from ANU’s State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Program, Colin Wiltshire and Thiago Cintra Oppermann, discuss the politicisation of drought relief in PNG.
  • The ABC published a picture story last year displaying powerful images of drought affected villages and crops. Earlier this year they ran another picture story, showing children starving in Western Province as the drought worsens.
  • Many are asking where the donor community, and notably Australia, is as PNG continues to struggle through the drought and subsequent recovery. The answer is that the donor community has not been asked to assist, largely because the PNG Government doesn’t want a repeat of the 1997/1998 drought response, where Australia was seen as the saviour.
  • This DFAT report provides a summary of the emergency efforts both domestically and internationally to the 1997/1998 drought in PNG.
  • These articles offer comparisons between 1997/1998 and the current drought in PNG, considering both lessons learnt and what can be done now to save lives.
  • If international actors are still prohibited from providing assistance, what about the NGOs which have been working for decades with communities in the highlands? Unfortunately, for similar political reasons, their hands are also tied when it comes to distributing food aid. Oxfam and CARE are both providing assistance such as distributing jerry cans of water, soap and water purification tablets as well as conducting research and assessments. But food relief is still sorely needed.
Man distributes jerry cans of water in Womkama in PNG. Image via Oxfam.
  • There are some notable differences to the drought, and response, this time around. Amanda Watson comments on the use of technology such as mobile phones to assist data collection and aid delivery during the drought. She notes that mobile phone coverage in rural and remote areas is the most significant technological change in PNG since the last severe drought, noting weekly SMS communication between local leaders and researchers could aid data collection and subsequent drought relief in 2016.
  • The National Agricultural Research Institute in PNG has this drought strategy available from 2003, and a press release discussing how certain provinces are adopting drought strategies for farming.
  • This report from the International Organisation of Migration examines the impact the drought could have on migratory patterns in PNG, with millions of people affected in the Highlands potentially becoming mobile in search of food and water.
  • Globally, the El Niño phenomenon is causing drought and frost across areas of Africa, the Caribbean and Asia. The BBC considers different impacts and humanitarian issues across the globe, declaring this El Nino to be the strongest on record.
  • While the official government response to the drought, as well as the inability of international donors to act in support of any drought relief effort, are disappointing, Mike Bourke reminds us that in 1997/1998 80% of drought relief supplies were purchased by wantok networks. It is this resilience of PNG communities, not any official response, that will do the most to prevent mass starvation and death from this disaster.


Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required

Recent Articles

About the Authors

Chloe Hickey-Jones - Intern, Melanesia Program, Lowy Institute - Lowy Institute

Chloe Hickey-Jones

Intern, Melanesia Program, Lowy Institute

Issue Categories:

Chloe Hickey-Jones is an intern in the Melanesia Program at the Lowy Institute. Chloe has a Bachelor of International and Global Studies (Honours) from the University of Sydney where she majored in Government and International Relations. Chloe grew up travelling between Australia and Lae in PNG, where her interest in Australian policy in the Pacific Islands region developed. In her internship at the Institute she assists with research on the issues of corruption and development in Papua New Guinea.

Jonathan Pryke - Director, Pacific Islands Program, Lowy Institute - Lowy Institute

Jonathan Pryke

Director, Pacific Islands Program, Lowy Institute

Issue Categories:

Jonathan Pryke is the Director of the Pacific Islands Program at the Lowy Institute. Prior to joining the Institute Jonathan was a Research Officer at the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University where, on top of his research obligations, he was editor of the Development Policy Blog and a co-convenor of the Australasian Aid Conference. Jonathan is interested in economic development in the Pacific Islands region, Australia’s relationship with Melanesia, the role of aid and the private sector in Pacific Islands development and Pacific labour mobility. Jonathan holds a Bachelor of Commerce from The University of Sydney, a Masters of Public Policy (Development Policy), Masters of Diplomacy and Graduate Diploma in International and Development Economics from the Australian National University.