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$1 million for PNG drought recovery

I am pleased to announce the Australian Government will fund a new agricultural rehabilitation project in Papua New Guinea to assist long-term recovery from the drought and frosts which have devastated the country over the last year.

The rain that has fallen in some parts of drought stricken PNG has encouraged moves to begin work on providing PNG villagers with planting materials. Still, many Papua New Guineans continue to suffer serious food and water shortages and Australia remains committed to assisting our neighbour with emergency drought relief. This new $1 million agricultural rehabilitation project will complement Australia's ongoing emergency drought relief effort.

This agricultural rehabilitation project will involve Australia shipping nearly 500 tonnes of plants and seeds of rapid growing food crops to PNG. A total of 462 tonnes of sequoia seed potato, 14 tonnes of corn seed and 70,000 packets of dwarf bean, pumpkin and cucumber seeds will be distributed to villages where enough rain has fallen to encourage planting.

The project will provide flexible planting to ensure that if the rains are further delayed the material is not wasted. The Papua New Guinean Government will assist the project by distributing the plant material to villages.

By beginning to replant village food gardens the project aims to reduce the dependency on emergency food relief supplies by helping villagers develop a more secure, sustainable food supply. Villagers will also be encouraged to plant traditional food crops, such as sweet potato, yam, taro and cassava, but these crops take between 6 to 15 months to mature. The provision of fast maturing crops will provide early relief from the drought and help provide long-term drought protection for villagers.

AusAID and the Australian Defence Forces will begin the third cycle of food aid deliveries tomorrow (January 3, 1998). Its expected that 610,000 kilograms of food aid will be delivered to people in need in very isolated areas during this month's cycle.

Since October 1997 AusAID has delivered over 1.2 million kilograms of food to Papua New Guineans facing serious food shortages in areas that are only accessible by air. With the assistance of the ADF this has meant AusAID has provided food to around 60,000 people in five provinces. In addition, Australian non-government aid agencies have received grants of nearly $3.5 million to assist the PNG Government deliver rapid relief projects in other drought stricken areas.

BOUGAINVILLE

Media contacts:

Innes Willox (Bougainville, PNG) 0411 414 695

Deborah Nesbitt (AusAID, Canberra) 02 6206 4966