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CANBERRA, Australia (January 5, 1998 - PACNEWS)---Australia is planning to send almost 500 tons of fast growing plants and seeds to Papua New Guinea to assist the country’s long-term recovery from its worst drought on record.

The agricultural rehabilitation program, estimated to cost $Aus1 million ($US652,000), will complement Australia's ongoing emergency drought relief effort under which food and medicines are being flown to villages in the worst affected areas.

Australia's Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, says some 460 tons of sequoia seed potato, 14 tons of corn seed and 70,000 packets of dwarf bean, pumpkin and cucumber seeds will be distributed to people in areas where enough rain has fallen to encourage planting. He said the aim was to reduce dependency on emergency food relief supplies by helping people develop a more secure, sustainable food supply.

Downer said villagers also would be encouraged to plant traditional food crops such as sweet potato, yam, taro and cassava which take much longer to mature.

Meanwhile, AusAID, the Australian Government's aid agency, says thousands of people in remote regions of Irian Jaya, on the western half of New Guinea Island, also are facing serious water and food shortages as the prolonged drought pushes local population there to the brink of starvation. Irian Jaya, adjoining PNG, is one of the poorest and most sparsely populated areas of Indonesia.

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