Tuesday, January 19, 2016

BEWARE: THE POST DROUGHT PERIOD IS MOST DANGEROUS

For eight months in 2015, the people of Konge in the Kabwum district of Morobe province experienced the worst drought conditions since 1997.
The impact of the drought was so severe that by the second term in July, all the primary and elementary schools in the district were forced to close as people dealt with the food and water shortages.
Already suffering from a host of other problems, one of the first to shut its doors was Sikam primary - an isolated village school a three hour walk from the nearest airstrip.
“I can tell you that our children didn’t have food to eat every day,” says Rauke Samangau, a teacher at Sikam Primary School.
“Their parent still cant find enough food to feed them.”
With the dry period ending, a new challenge is emerging.
Nimson Mariu, head teacher of another school, Konge Primary, is now seeing a food crisis developing – a crisis being largely ignored because after eight months of dry, the rains have come.
But the green brought on by damp weather is very deceptive. It is complicating an already difficult situation.
“During the dry period, we still had food in the ground. Now that the rains have come, the tubers are rotting in the ground.”
Far away from Kabwum, at the headwaters of the Sepik river, the people of Urapmin a village tucked away on ridge in the Telifomin District of Sandaun, are facing a food shortage of similar intensity.
Karina Letap, saw the worst of the drought pass but now she and her family are facing a bigger challenge. With no guarantee of government food relief, they remain unsure of how their families will survive when the last of their food stores are exhausted.
Sweet potato and their primary staple crop – the taro - central to their cultural ceremonies are being destroyed by pests.
“This short nosed beetle,” she says holding a black insect, “is what burrows into the taro and eats it.
“Everything is gone. The rains have poisoned our gardens.”
Like other villagers in Urapmin, Gabriel Letap, planted several patches of taro when the rains came. But the seedlings are riddled with disease.
“What the people are experiencing is an increase of fungal growth on the roots of crops,” says Dr. Sergie Bang, Director General of the National Agriculture Research Institute.
“Crops that suffered damage during the drought succumb to fungal growth with the onset of rain.”
Over the Last 48 hours, NARI has been in touch with district authorities to gain an understanding of the new problems emerging during the post drought period being experienced in areas like Telefomin.
NARI is one of the few government agencies that warned of the impending drought 12 months prior. Now it is at the forefront of monitoring post drought impacts on food but with very limited financial resources at hand.

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