The El Nino weather system has caused the worst drought in the history of Papua New Guinea and neighboring Irian Jaya, straining the resources of Christian relief ministries.

The island's rainy season usually begins in September. But the drought has destroyed crops, produced a critical water shortage, and has been accompanied by severe frosts that have wiped out most crops. Smoke from fires, many the result of "slash-and-burn" farming methods, is also hampering relief efforts.

Australian Aid estimates that 1 million people could be facing starvation this month in Papua New Guinea, which has a population of 4 million. In Irian Jaya, with a population of 1.6 million, about 250,000 people are expected to need outside aid by the end of the year.

"The rivers are drying up," says Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) technician Roger Kolb in Irian Jaya. "Dozens of people are dying in many of the villages." MAF is assisting in the relief efforts.

MAF-Australia is donating $7,000 a month toward relief efforts in Papua New Guinea and MAF-United States is airlifting supplies in Irian Jaya.

However, MAF estimates that, even when combined with the Indonesian military, they can airlift only 40 percent of Irian Jaya's current needs.

December 8, 1997 Vol. 41, No. 14, Page 74

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