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World Humanitarian Day 2016: Staff profiles

Staff profiles: Ken - Papua New Guinea

Some 2.7 million people are affected by drought, frost and forest fires in Papua New Guinea (PNG). After months of suffering from an El Niño-driven drought, large parts of the country have experienced torrential rain since early 2016, exacerbating the existing levels of vulnerability. The resulting flooding and landslides have affected homes, food gardens, water sources and infrastructure in several provinces.

Ken SHIMIZU has been working for FAO for almost a decade and is currently the head of office in PNG, where he has been stationed for the last two and half years. We spoke to Ken about his work helping drought-affected farmers in PNG.

What is your current role with FAO and what does it involve?
I am the head of the FAO country office in Papua New Guinea. I am responsible for the development of the country programme and setting up the country office, since it is a relatively new office.

What motivated you to work in the humanitarian field?
As a Japanese child growing up in a multi-racial community in the USA, I witnessed and experienced racial discrimination. When I returned to Japan as a teen, I was ostracized by my classmates for being “too American”. I struggled a lot in terms of reintegrating myself to Japanese society, and the experience motivated me to work in the development and humanitarian field and to help minority communities and disadvantaged groups.

Can you give an overview of the scope of the El Niño emergency and what you’ve seen on field missions throughout the country?
In many parts of the country there is reduced access to clean drinking water and reduced water availability has affected agricultural production, leading to a drastic increase in basic food prices. Water shortages has forced schools to close for half the day and led health facilities to scale down operations or close. Efforts of households to re-establish their food gardens have been disrupted by pests and diseases, as well as soil depletion from the drought and flooding causing crops to fail.

Can you describe how El Niño has affected food security in the country? And what does that mean for the livelihoods of those that depend on agriculture?
Drought and frost caused by El Niño have disrupted agricultural production in affected regions. Considering that more than 80 percent of the population rely on subsistence agriculture, this has had a direct impact on their food security and livelihoods.

How is FAO responding to the El Niño emergency?
FAO has been supporting the Department of Agriculture and Livestock (DAL) on sectoral coordination for drought relief and mitigation and the development of an Agricultural Recovery Plan. FAO has partnered with the World Food Programme to establish a food security cluster in PNG for the first time. FAO is also collaborating with the National Statistics Office to enhance their capacity for the collection and analysis of data on food security and agricultural production.

What do farmers (or families that depend on agriculture for their livelihood) in PNG need most right now in terms of assistance?
While there has been funding provided to emergency food aid assistance and nutrition interventions, the agricultural recovery sector remains severely underfunded. There needs to be more financial support given to the sector and to the Agricultural Recovery Plan.

Describe the location of where you work
I am based in Port Moresby, the capital. PNG is called the “Land of the Unexpected”, and it certainly lives up to its reputation. Unfortunately, Port Moresby has been ranked as one of the most “difficult to live” cities in the world at times, due to security issues and very high living costs. It is simultaneously the jewel of the Pacific and Asia’s final frontier. A bridge between Asia and the Pacific.

What motivates you to work in the agriculture and food security sector?
Knowing that agriculture and food security has a direct impact on improving livelihoods, eradicating poverty and hunger, and promoting rural development. It also contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goal No.2.

Can you share your most inspiring moment in humanitarian work?
The most inspiring moment is when people come to you and tell you that you are doing a good job, and you know that they mean it. I was especially delighted when a major national newspaper ran an editorial on “70 years of UN”, and highlighted the opening of the FAO office in the country as a milestone.

What is it like working in an emergency environment?
It is like being on a roller-coaster that you can’t get off from. There are moments of enormous highs where you feel like you have accomplished a lot, followed by the low moments when you feel like you are back to square one. Up and down, up and down.

What are the biggest challenges for you and how do you cope?
Knowing what needs to be done, but not being able to execute it immediately due to a lack of resources, capacity, time, logistics, etc. I try to cope with it by telling myself “It is what it is. No use crying about what it should have been or should be”. I try to take it day by day, and step by step.

What are the biggest challenges facing FAO in the location where you are?
Strengthening the country office capacity, mobilizing resources, and elevating the profile and position of FAO as a trusted and reliable player in the development arena.

What is the hardest thing you’ve ever had to do on the job?
Terminating or letting staff go, due to lack of funding or performance issues. At the end of the day, what you remember most are the faces that you worked with and the moments that you shared with them, the good and the bad.