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PORT Moresby, Papua New Guinea (October 29, 1997 - Radio Australia)--- Papua New Guinea's drought is now a "once in a century disaster," says the head of an Australian aid assessment team, Dr. Bryant Allen.

More than half a million Papua New Guineans, he said, have insufficient food and need immediate aid.

"The Australians have responded very quickly. The PNG officials have responded a little more slowly," Allen commented. "They've formed a Drought Relief Committee at the highest level, and they've formed a technical working group to supply the Drought Relief Committee with technical information. The problem they're really having is a financial one, I think. They were about to put a budget together and suddenly the middle of their budget has been knocked completely out."

Dr. Allen says if normal rains do not come next month then three-quarters of a million rural people will need help.

The aid agency, AUSAID, says emergency supplies of rice and flour are being distributed using four Australian Air Force transport planes and three helicopters.

AUSAID says more than $2 million (Australian) have been committed to the drought relief effort.

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