Drought warning in PNG

Collecting water in Yiwun village, Wewak District, PNG. Photo: Dion Kombeng/WaterAid

A severe drought similar to the 1997 drought is projected to worsen the situation in Papua New Guinea.

Provinces currently under high risk drought watch include; Southern Highlands, Hela, Chimbu and lately some parts of Central Province.

National weather service director Jimmy Gomoga warned that this drought, expected to strike at the end of December and will bring various challenges, including food and water shortage and is also expected to impact the agriculture industry.

Gomoga is now issuing a stern warning to the government and people of PNG to prepare in advance.

The timing of the drought period also coincides with the commencement of several mining projects, which will require surplus food and water to effectively begin operations.

“We have been monitoring the data closely since 2022 and the indications show that we might start experiencing the drought period before the end of this year around December,” Gomoga warned.

“This is evident in our changing weather patterns as we did not receive as much rainfall as we expected during the last wet season. Some parts of the country are already facing side effects of the drought and this will likely continue.”

Gomoga also revealed that tests conducted on our ocean temperature have come back positive, meaning that the temperature of our seas have officially gone above the threshold mark.

“As of March this year, the temperature came back positive. Our oceans have become warm, indicating that the El Nino was stepping in to our climate,” he said.

“We have not declared El Nino as yet because our ocean pressure difference is still normal. According to predictions, by December an imbalance in pressure will likely take place, after we get the confirmed data and reading we will then declare El Nino.”

Gomoga further advised the general public to prepare in advance for food and water shortages as the impacts of this drought will have a large scale impact across the country.

“We are starting to see minor side effects of drought in some parts of the country. But when we actually declare El Nino, the impacts will be much greater. We will definitely have water shortages and this will impact our agriculture and food security,” he said.

“During that time, much of our small waterholes will dry up and our people will have to rely on rivers or bore holes for water. Those who rely on bore holes or watering wells will also have to dig much deeper to get water because around that time there is also high atmospheric pressure in our region which will push the water tables much lower than usual,” he clarified.

Majority of the population in the country live in the rural areas and produce their own food crops for consumption. This makes them vulnerable to extreme weather events such as droughts.

The bulk of fresh garden foods such as vegetables and sweet potato also comes from the highlands region to the main centers in Lae and Port Moresby.

This supply will also be affected because the drought will cause frost in the highlands region, subsequently killing off livestock, food and cash crops. The dry and hot weather in the coastal region will also have the same impact on food and water. Gamoga however assured that there is no need for panic, so long as the government, businesses and the public take precautionary steps to protect themselves in an event that El Nino is declared.

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