RAIN IN PNG DROUGHT AREAS BRINGS LITTLE RELIEF

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (December 9, 199 -Niuswire/Post- Courier)---Rain has begun to fall in some parts of Papua New Guinea but it is bringing little relief to the drought-stricken areas targeted by AusAID to receive food aid, the Post-Courier reported today.

So far the rain is not enough to break the drought affecting approximately 500,000 Papua New Guineans and it is making delivery of aid to some areas only accessible by air more difficult.

Up to four inches of rain has fallen almost every afternoon for the last week in Kiunga, but just 13 minutes away by helicopter at Eat Awin refugee camp, scarcely a drop has been recorded.

The heavy rains make it difficult for Royal Australian Air Force Hercules planes delivering food to Kiunga airstrip, and for Army Chinook helicopter deliveries of food from there to the worst-affected and most remote villages in the province.

In spite of the difficulties caused by the weather, Australian Defense Force relief operations are still on track.

Drought-affected villages need at least a month of good, soaking rain for crops to survive. Even if rain begins falling in the right places in sufficient quantities tomorrow, villagers face another 3-4 months before fast-growing Irish potatoes can be grown.

Traditional sweet potato crops take nine months from the time of planting to when they are ready to be eaten.

Assessment teams predict that February will be the toughest month for drought victims. Villagers will have exhausted whatever cash reserves they had to buy supplementary food. They will have been surviving on food aid or reduced food supplies for several months, and crops will still not be ready to harvest.

Australia's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have both stated that Australia is committed to assisting the people of PNG throughout this crisis.

Since the relief operation began, 889 tons of food have been delivered to villages most affected by drought and frost.

Title -- 1065 DROUGHT: Rain brings little relief Date -- 9 December 1997 Byline -- None Origin -- Niuswire Source -- Post-Courier (PNG), 9/12/97 Copyright -- Post-Courier Status -- Unabridged

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