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Papua New Guinea - Climate

PNG is under enormous threat from the impact of global warming and the effects of changing climatic patterns. The fourth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (2007) showed predictions of increased surface temperatures, thus accelerating changes in global and regional climatic patterns.

PNG has developed long-term strategies for attaining sustainable development through addressing the issue of climate change. PNG Vision 2050 encompasses both short and long-term development strategies while the National Disaster Mitigation Policy (2010) provides a mechanism for shaping disaster mitigation and vulnerability reduction efforts as well as emergency response and reconstruction. The National Climate Compatible Development Management Policy (2014) is PNGs blueprint to achieve their vision in building a climate-resilient and carbon-neutral pathway through sustainable economic development. These strategies intend to represent a foundation for continued economic development and risk mitigation.

PNG has a moderate tropical climate and is generally hot and humid throughout the year. The climate is tropical with high temperatures, humidity and rainfall. PNG experiences a northwest monsoon from December to March and a southeast monsoon from May to October. There are only slight seasonal temperature variations although temperatures vary significantly according to altitude. Climatic conditions vary greatly from one area to another owing to the mountainous topography and the two major prevailing air streams (the southeasterly trade winds and the northwesterly monsoon).

Rainfall is the main weather feature that differentiates the seasons. There are distinct wet and dry seasons, the timing of which varies from one area to the other. For instance, the wet season in Lae largely corresponds with the dry season in Madang, even though both are on the northwest coast of the mainland.

Islands in the north and north-east of the country generally experience consistent rainfall throughout the year with temperatures consistently above 28C. Lowland, coastal and island areas have daytime average temperatures of around 27C throughout the year. Humidity in the lowland varies around 80 percent. Highland areas also receive high annual rainfall with temperatures ranging from a low of 4C to 32C. The Capital District area receives less than 1 000 mm a year because it is located in a rain shadow. Tropical lightweight cotton clothing is recommended, while warmer clothing may be needed in the highlands. The western Pacific monsoon is the southern extension of the larger Asian- Australian monsoon system that moves seasonally from the northern hemisphere into the tropical regions of the south during December to February. It is characterised by reversal of prevailing winds that are responsible for causing movement from very dry to very wet conditions. It affects countries in the far western Pacific and the Indonesian archipelago. Sub-tropical and high latitude influences are associated with sub-tropical high pressure systems, south-east and north-east trade winds, and cold fronts. Papua New Guinea is prone to natural disasters. Heavy rains often lead to damage to road infrastructure and livelihoods, as well as economic losses, as seen in June and September of 2012. Total damages and losses in 2012 amounted to approximately U.S.$28 million. The government spent more than U.S.$300,000 to organize humanitarian aid and provided U.S.$1.5 million for alternate road access in order to restore access to the damaged roads. Of the PNG nationally reported losses between 1990-2014, flooding represents 32.1 percent of the economic losses with Earthquakes representing 30.2 percent.

Sea level rises due to climate change will increase the frequency and scale of flooding events. Expected increases in precipitation will saturate soils, increasing the risk of landslides and river flooding. Changes in climatic conditions are expanding the areas suitable for mosquitoes and also increasing the number of mosquitos in a given area.

PNG is prone to natural disasters including cyclones, river flooding, coastal erosion, droughts and frost. The tropical cyclone season for PNG begins in October and ends in May each year. PNG receives, on average one cyclone per year.

Each year in PNG floods cause significant damage to buildings and critical infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, as well as to agriculture and crops. In March 2015 heavy rainfall caused river overflows in PNGs provinces of Western Highlands, Central Highlands, Southern Highlands, and Jiwaka. In total, about 100,000 people were affected by the rainfall and floods.

In April 2014 Tropical Cyclone Ita caused extensive damage in the Northern provinces, displacing many villagers and disrupting livelihoods of 12,346 people. The number of houses destroyed was extensive, rising to 1,285 with 3,442 food gardens also being hit. Water and food supplies were contaminated or damaged by the storm and 67 classrooms had to be closed. In January 2013 heavy rainfall resulted in floods and landslides affecting homes, food gardens, waters sources and infrastructure. Thousands of people were affected in several provinces. January 2012- A landslide in Tumbi Village, Hela Province, killed dozens and severely disrupted trade and transport in the country.

In May 2010 an estimated 20,000 people in remote parts of East Sepik province were affected by floods- the worst in 40 years- along the Sepik River. Residents needed minimum levels of outside support thanks to traditional coping mechanisms. Worst affected were Angoram, Ambunit and Wosara-Gowi districts.

El Nino reappears every 2-10 years and causes drought and frost, which contributes to food and water shortages. The more severe impacts exist along regions within the boundary of Savannah grassland in both high and low altitude areas. In August 2015 the National Weather Service declared the country would be experiencing a severe El Nino event, which is forecasted to continue for 8 10 months with reduced rainfall in all parts of the country. The National Disaster Management Office (formerly the National Disaster Center [NDC]) estimated that 2 million people are affected. The Provincial Disaster Center of Chimbu Province reported 24 people confirmed dead as a result of prolonged drought in the Highlands region.

PNG is under enormous threat from the impact of global warming and the effects of changing climatic patterns. In PNG, climate change will likely exacerbate event-driven hazards such as coastal flooding, inland flooding and landslides, and may also introduce new hazards due to gradual shifts in climatic conditions most prominently, further malaria penetration into the highlands, changed agricultural yields and damaged coral reefs.

Coastal flooding and sea level rise will affect coastal regions in PNG. In the last 15 years, four catastrophic flood events, and coastal floods have affected some 8,000 people a year. On an annualized basis, the floods caused USD 10-20 million (M) of damage, displacing 500 people and killing five. Rising sea levels worsened the effect of coastal floods and necessitated the evacuation of people from the Carteret Atolls and Duke of York Islands. Salinization and flooding are damaging fragile communities and cultures, making these areas uninhabitable.

Malaria severely affects PNG daily life, with 1.7M people infected every year. About 60 percent of the population lives in high-risk malaria regions. In the last 20 years, climatic changes have worsened the malaria effects. With rising temperatures, the parasite has established itself in the highlands where it was not previously present. Additional rises in temperature over the next 20 years will introduce malaria to previously risk-free regions and could worsen the impact of malaria for those living in low-risk zones.

Inland flooding, driven by heavy irregular rainfalls, regularly affects valleys and wetlands in both lowlands and highlands. The effects of inland flooding are amplified by steep inclines and deforestation. Based on 19 years of data, 22,000-26,000 people are affected annually by inland floods, displacing 6,000-8,000 and typically resulting in a few deaths each year.

Public records estimate annual damage at US$8-12M, a burden usually shouldered by the poorest people in the country. Changes in climatic conditions, both through increased average precipitation and increased extreme rainfall events, will strongly affect the impact of inland floods.

Sea temperature increase and acidification may over time destroy PNGs coral reefs, the fifth largest in the world. Between 50,000 and 70,000 coastal inhabitants rely on coral reefs for their food, livelihoods and shelter. Not only do the reefs contribute to economic growth through fisheries and tourism, they protect the coastlines from storms and loss of land.

Landslides, triggered by increased rainfall intensity and land use changes, destroy vital assets in mountainous areas. In recent decades, landslides have caused considerable damage to road infrastructure and remote communities. The effect of landslides is not well understood given the unpredictability and remote impact. At the same time, landslides have caused significant damage along the Highlands Highway, the sole lifeline for the highland communities and export businesses. Changes in precipitation patterns and land use are likely to increase the number of landslides.

Deforestation is an increasingly serious issue owing to rising commercial demand for tropical timber and largely unenforced logging regulations in the corrupt timber industry. The government strenuously denies any wrong doing or that the industry is inappropriately regulated. The Forestry Minister has refused to acknowledge or act upon the recommendations of a 2004 World Bank report on illegal logging, stating that the report was written by people biased "against the growth of the industry". The forestry industry, while technically regulated, has largely a free rein supported by endemic corruption and high-powered vested interests including within the Forestry Ministry itself.

Deforestation of steeply wooded hillsides provides the potential for landslips and mudslides, removing the topsoil and endangering the subsistence villagers below. Mudslides have been reported in East and West New Britain, Morobe and Gulf provinces where logging has been particularly heavy and rivers downstream of several large mills have been polluted with run off. Concern in the World Bank's report was also expressed for the loss of biodiversity caused by forestry practices as approximately five percent of the world's species are thought to exist within PNG's rich natural environment.

Approximately 85 percent of the population still remain and rely on the land and forests for food and indigenous medicines. The effect of rapid deforestation is already having a considerable effect on the health and welfare of poorer sections of the population.

Mining projects are harmful to environmental sustainability in PNG. Panguna mine on the island of Bougainville, for example, was forced to close due to its environmental impact. Ok Tedi mine was the subject of an environmental class action resulting in AUD1 billion in reparation payments and Lihir mine remains the subject of continuing safety and environmental concerns. The principal rivers are the Fly, Purari, Kikori, Sepik and Ramu. The main river is the Fly, some 1,200 km (745 miles) long. The Fly is navigable for some 800 km (500 miles) from its mouth at the Gulf of Papua and has been heavily polluted through mining operations at Ok Tedi, which have been suspended since 2000.

The political system has been dysfunctional since independence in 1975, whereby corruption, weak governance and tribal loyalties have eroded governmental capacity and undermined the power of parliament and the stability of cabinets.

Tough economic decisions have been avoided and the nation's development has been left largely forgotten and struggling, in favor of short-term gains and maintenance of political careers. As PNGs prime aid donor, Australias Enhanced Cooperation Program aid package of $300M focuses on reform, anti-corruption, a strategic plan on HIV/AIDS, and assistance with military training. With a defense force of 2,100, the PNG military is poorly trained, lacks funding and, most importantly, is not trusted by the local populace due to indiscriminate campaigns and human rights abuses.

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Page last modified: 21-12-2016 19:24:17 ZULU