January 22, 2016 3:46 AM EST

El Niño–driven drought and frost have triggered food shortages in Papua New Guinea’s highlands that have left millions without sufficient food and may have caused deaths, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Up to a third of the population has already been affected, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Markets are low on food and prices for what remains are high. Water supplies have dried up in some areas, forcing villagers to walk for hours to collect enough for their daily needs.

The situation is particularly dire in remote areas of the Western Province, which have not received relief since the droughts started in mid-2015. The government is planning to send supplies, according to ABC.

The European Commission doubled its aid to the Pacific island nation in December, Reuters reported. The last severe El Niño–related drought in Papua New Guinea hit in 1997 and affected over a million people, the FAO estimates.


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Write to Mark Rivett-Carnac at mark.rivett-carnac@timeasia.com.

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