The worst drought in living memory has inflicted severe damage on the fragile economy of Papua New Guinea. The Anglican Church is appealing for financial support to help the country meet the crisis.
The Bishop, the Rt Revd Michael Hough, said last week: "People are dying from the drought; communities are being disrupted, and are starving. There has been no rain since Easter. A country used to tropical rain forests, muddy roads and soil in which things grow while you watch, has been turned into a dry, dusty world. Many rivers are down to a trickle; and smaller streams in the bush, which are the source of most water for village communities, have simply disappeared."
The cause of the climatic disaster is thought to be the "El Nino" phenomenon. Snow and severe frost have hit the Highland areas. The very dry conditions have led to the rapid spread of bush fires, and widespread destruction. The failure of the rain has meant that new gardens have not taken. Not only have present food supplies run out but there is nothing ready for the future.
Normally, says Bishop Hough, bush fires burn themselves out quickly, but some have now been burning for months. This has serious consequences for people who live in and round the jungle, quite apart from environmental damage. They are mainly subsistence gardeners, growing food for themselves and to trade in local markets. Fire and drought have devastated their crops.
The economic consequences of the drought will be dire. Distribution is a major problem as there are few roads and many villages are inaccessible. Bishop Hough says that even if the rains were to come now, the problems caused by the drought would affect the country for many months to come and it would be a year before the gardens are back to providing enough food to feed the villages.
The drought is also causing a problem with drinking water. Stomach disorders and diarrhoea are causing suffering amongst the elderly and the very young. In the bush there is an increase in the number of terrible sores and ulcers.
"We are a small Church," the Bishop said, "A tiny part of God's people in a suffering country. There is need for help and support. We ask our brothers and sisters elsewhere to keep us in their prayers and to be with us in our present need."
The church has established a three phase aid programme. There are immediate needs for food, water, and medical support: continued support once the rains have arrived and medium and longer term development of additional water sources. Funding can be sent to: The Papua New Guinea Church Partnership, Partnership House, 157 Waterloo Rd. London, SE1 8UT or The Anglican Board of Missions, Australia, 91 Bathurst St. Sydney, 2000, Australia.