MAJOR HUMANITARIAN CRISIS IN PAPUA NEW GUINEA WORSENING

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CANBERRA, Australia (January 11, 1998 - PACNEWS)---The Australian government says there is clear evidence of a major humanitarian crisis in Papua New Guinea, with the prolonged drought likely getting worse before it gets better.

The government was commenting on a report compiled by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), which reveals that more than 1.2 million people - 40% of PNG's rural population - are suffering severe food shortages. It also highlights the lack of clean drinking water in some isolated areas.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Kathy Sullivan, says the information contained in the report is vital to enabling the PNG authorities to plan and coordinate relief operations, and is a basis for continued Australian drought assistance.

Sullivan said Australia will continue to assist the PNG government in whatever ways it could.

So far, $Aus16 million ($US10 million) has been committed to the relief effort.

Sullivan said that in response to the critical drinking water situation identified in the report, an Australian water-drilling expert will be sent to PNG, joining other expert technical advisers already assisting PNG authorities.

Sullivan also announced that the AusAID relief food operation being carried by the Australian Defense Force will be expanded to supply more than 71,000 people who live in areas accessible only by air. The extent of the crisis should not be underestimated, she stressed, adding that the international community could help the PNG government ensure that the suffering caused by the drought is kept to a minimum.

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