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Starvation, drought taking hold in Pacific: New Zealand development agency

WELLINGTON, Oct. 4 — Children in the Pacific have had to eat cassava roots softened with paracetamol, while other people have died from lack of food and clean water, a leading development agency said in a report Tuesday.

The El Niño weather pattern had compounded the effects of serious emergencies like Cyclone Pam, which battered Vanuatu last year, and Cyclone Winston, which hit Fiji in March, and the ongoing effects of climate change, said the report compiled by the Catholic Caritas agencies in New Zealand, Australia and Tonga.

At the peak of the regional drought in the southern summer, more than 4.7 million people were affected by food and water issues, according to the UN, and the impact continued to be felt, especially on health, education and livelihoods, said Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand director Julianne Hickey.

"According to our partners across the region, this was the most severe El Niño drought their people had ever experienced. We heard of people walking days to get food and water in Papua New Guinea, with many becoming sick and some people dying from lack of food and access to safe drinking water," Hickey said in a statement.

In the Kimbe area of West New Britain, we heard of streams drying up, cracked soil and shriveled coconut fruit people could no longer make copra. Then a devastating bush fire hit that destroyed 25,000 cocoa trees, said Hickey.

Strong community resilience, coupled with a largely effective emergency response from governments and humanitarian agencies, helped to minimize loss of life and infrastructure during the El Niño drought.

The report, launched in Wellington, acknowledged the historic Paris Agreement as signalling a new and unprecedented international commitment to fighting climate change, but said that needed to be backed up with concrete action and special consideration given to the needs of the most vulnerable in the region.

Opposition lawmakers said the report showed the New Zealand government had to allocate more than the current 0.7 percent of gross national income on development assistance.

"We can't claim to be responsible global citizens when we're only offering the bare minimum of aid to our Pacific neighbors, whose day-to-day lives are being severely impacted by climate change," co-leader of the opposition Green Party, James Shaw, said in a statement. (PNA/Xinhua)

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