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Papua New Guinea Drought: WFP Food Distributions Wind Up Amid Signs Of Recovery

PORT MORESBY – The World Food Programme announced that it has concluded its food distributions in Papua New Guinea, having reached over 246,000 people in the highlands as well as Western and Milne Bay Provinces. These areas are recovering from the most severe El Niño–related drought in decades.

On 19 October, the final vessel carrying WFP rice reached Sudest Island in Milne Bay Province. WFP had been delivering fortified rice to drought-affected communities since 6 June, with distributions concluding in Western Province and Southern Highlands Provinces on 13 September and in the highlands on 26 September. Over 246,000 people were reached countrywide with 4,710 mt of micronutrient-fortified rice.

“This endeavour would not have been possible without the coordinated support of WFP’s team on the ground, the PNG National Disaster Centre and UN agencies working together as one. With this teamwork we have come full circle since the drought began – from reacting swiftly with partners to identify the locations of the most vulnerable people to procuring and delivering the last bags of rice, the operation has exceeded our original goals and has left visible improvements for the community,” says Mats Persson, WFP Emergency Coordinator in Port Moresby.

Persson also praised the dedication and contributions of the Papua New Guineans. “The Milne Bay Provincial Disaster Centre and Government were particularly instrumental in conducting the food distribution in Milne Bay Province. We were proud to see local leaders organizing boat distributions, recruiting student volunteers to monitor food, and working around the clock to reach communities on islands far from the mainland.”

The operation was met with many challenges as WFP sought to reach some of the most remote communities in the country. In Western Province, WFP relied on airlifts to reach villages and helped coordinate a total of 585 flights. In Milne Bay Province, sea transport was the only viable way to reach communities on outer islands. Each operational area presented environmental challenges, such as ocean swells in Milne Bay and heavy rains and landslides in the highlands.

WFP has documented visible signs of recovery as well as anecdotal evidence suggesting the return of crops to areas once affected by drought. However, evidence of the extent of the recovery is limited —while the El Niño event has officially ended, some subsistence farmers reported that they do not expect kaukau (sweet potato) yields until as late as December. WFP will begin an assessment in November to monitor the extent of the recovery and hopes to work with the Government on a continuous food security monitoring system. At the end of October, WFP will participate in a Lessons Learned workshop organized by the National Disaster Centre to help prepare for future humanitarian emergencies in the country.

Although WFP operation has officially ended, WFP leaves behind a legacy of engaged local humanitarians. Elizabeth Taulehebo, a Food Aid Monitor from Alotau, Milne Bay Province, praised the opportunity she was given to help people in her community: “The experience allowed me to enjoy the experience of helping people”.

WFP thanks the Governments of Japan, the European Union, and the USA as well as the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the UN agency which coordinates all UN humanitarian operations, for their generous funding support. WFP also thanks the Government of Papua New Guinea, UN agencies, non-governmental organisations and stakeholders for their involvement in the operation.   

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WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide, delivering food assistance in emergencies and working with communities to improve nutrition and build resilience. Each year, WFP assists some 80 million people in around 80 countries.
 
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For more information please contact (email address: firstname.lastname@wfp.org):
Mats Persson, WFP/Port Moresby, Mob. +675.7235.0105
Justin Dittmeier, WFP/Port Moresby, Mob. +675.7306.7738