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CANBERRA, Australia (November 20, 1997 - PACNEWS)---The Papua New Guinea government has appealed to experienced disaster relief organizations to assist in its battle to feed hungry villagers facing the worst PNG drought in 100 years.

The Australian government responded immediately by contributing an extra $US 2 million for Australian non-governmental organization (NGO) aid groups to provide rapid relief assistance to those PNG villagers most in need.

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer said it was clear that a growing number of PNG citizens are in dire need of help.

Expert assessments show that as many as half-a-million people in a population of four million are in a precarious situation, with 100,000 lives currently at risk.

Downer said the NGO groups would complement the assistance the Australian government is providing to PNG directly. He said he expected that the relief effort, which cost $2.7 million over the past month alone, will be needed until at least next February.

Experts have warned the Australian Agency for International Development, AusAid, that if heavy rains do not come soon, and the next growing season is lost, then the need for food throughout Papua New Guinea would become immense.

Downer said both he and Prime Minister John Howard have re-assured the government and people of Papua New Guinea that Australian will stand by them in their hour of need.

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