More than 2 million people in Papua New Guinea stand to be affected by severe food and water shortages unless serious steps are taken to ease the effects of a possible drought in the next 12 months.
The warning came from Papua New Guinea’s National Agriculture Research Institute (NARI) which says there has to be a collective effort by government agencies as well as communities to deal with the effects.
NARI’s warning comes in light of increasing global attention on the plight of coastal communities impacted by global warming and climate change. While much of the focus is on coastal areas, the institute is reporting an increase in crop diseases and poor harvests as a result of higher temperatures in highland areas.
“Crops react to temperature changes. Different temperatures affect germination, flowering and seeding,” says NARI’s lead scientist, Dr. Akkinapally Ramakrishna. “One crop may flower but it may not seed because of temperature variations.”
Over the last 40 years, the impact has become evident. Disease has decimated Papua New Guinea’s highlands potato industry. Sweet potato - a staple in many parts of the country – is also being killed by a fungal diseases. NARI says it has reached near epidemics proportions.
In a country where 85 percent of people live a subsistence lifestyle, all this has significant long term implications on Papua New Guinea’s overall food security. Limited food surpluses will mean urban markets will not get a steady flow of food crops as is the case now.
Current data from various international agencies show that drier and hotter periods are becoming frequent and more intensive. While a nationwide drought is a long term possibility, people can expected to see intermittent localized droughts.
The impacts of expected long dry periods won’t just affect food security. With about 90 percent of Papua New Guinea’s electricity needs supplied by hydroelectric dams, droughts will result in power rationing and increased costs to businesses and individuals.
“Drought is everybody’s problem,” says Dr. Ramakrishna. “We can’t just wait on the government to address it.”
In the face of funding problems, the institute continues to push the government to consider the establishment of food banks, resilient agriculture systems and better water security.