Feeling the heat in PNG

Climate change is one of the greatest injustices of our time. Developed countries like New Zealand have caused it with our fossil fuel-hungry industrialisation and lifestyles, yet developing countries are paying the price. To add insult to injury, these poor communities around the world are least equipped to deal with climate change impacts.

The common image of climate change in the Pacific is of inundated atolls, but impacts extend far beyond rising sea levels. Oxfam works with subsistence farming communities in Papua New Guinea who tell us about the changes they’re experiencing. Hundreds of generations of farming knowledge can no longer guarantee them a stable food supply.


James Gigmai stands in front of a community garden, Chimbu Province, PNG. Photo: Jerry Galea/Oxfam

Yields of coffee, the only revenue source for many communities in the Highlands, are dropping. James Gigmai, a village leader from Chimbu Province said, “25 or 30 years ago we used to say that June and December were coffee harvest times. Now, it’s unpredictable. We have short harvests 3 or 4 times a year, but little coffee.”

Memories of surviving by eating ferns during the severe El Nino drought in 1997-98 are still sharp. El Nino is expected again in four or five years; next time, the drought that comes with it could be worse.

Oxfam and our partners are teaching communities to grow diverse crops that are more tolerant to weather extremes and increase people’s capacity to store food during scarce times. We also work on emergency preparedness, to help people get through the more severe cyclones, floods, droughts and crises that will inevitably come.

Harry Gubala, Disaster Management Officer for Oxfam’s PNG Programme, explains: “Climate change will affect everybody in the country. There will be nowhere you can go to get away from it. What we need is to provide people with adaptive techniques and skills and policies.”