Papua New Guinea is located on the eastern half of the island of New Guinea in Oceania. It is the largest country in the Pacific region and one of the world’s most ethnically diverse countries, as exemplified by its nearly 7.1 million people and 850 indigenous spoken languages and accompanying cultures. There is a pervasive belief, particularly among political elites, that poverty in Papua New Guinea is a myth.
The Reality of Poverty in Papua New Guinea
This stems from the notion that all natives of Papua New Guinea are landowners and therefore have access to lives of “subsistence affluence” and a wealth of resources, including forestry, agriculture, fisheries, minerals and biodiversity.
While it is true that nearly 75% of natives survive off of subsistence farming and Papua New Guinea does have many natural resources, it is still ranked as a lower-middle income country. The poverty may better be described as a “poverty of opportunity,” which entails a lack of educational and occupational opportunities for its citizens.
Only about 50% of adults in Papua New Guinea are literate, while 25% of children are unable to attend school. Healthcare is another problem for Papua New Guinea. The average life expectancy for those within the country is 63 years.
Reports from the 2004 and 2009 National Millennium Development Goals show that Papua New Guinea had difficulty meeting its Millennium Development Goal targets, particularly maternal health, infant mortality, literacy and treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS. Many peripheral health facilities have been closed in recent years and those that are open are often severely underfunded or understaffed. Nearly two-fifths of health centers and rural health posts throughout the country have no electricity or access to necessary medical equipment.
Part of the problem with getting to school, work and hospitals have to do with Papua New Guinea’s infrastructure. In rural areas, where nearly 88% of the population resides, there are few roads or means of transportation to get to schools or places of employment. Inaccessibility to roads is a leading contributor to poverty in Papua New Guinea.
The poorest communities in Papua New Guinea have to travel 75% longer than the richer communities to reach the closest mode of motorized transportation. The average walk for a rural resident in Papua New Guinea is about 90 minutes to reach a rural road, while those most impoverished areas often have to walk four hours or more. Additionally, only 7% of the population has access to electricity and water filtration.
Poverty in Papua New Guinea has also led to human development lagging behind. The country currently ranks 156 out of 186 countries in the 2013 Human Development Index (HDI). Gender equality is a significant issue facing the people of Papua New Guinea, as the country ranks in the bottom 10 countries in the Gender Equality Index.
Violations of women’s rights are nearly systemic throughout the country, with nearly two-thirds of women having experienced violence. Women and girls also have substantially less access to basic education and healthcare than their male counterparts.
Other countries have not done much to alleviate poverty in Papua New Guinea. Many highly developed nations have used the land’s resources, promising payout to the residents they displace and not making good on their word. Many citizens never see a profit from these non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
This exploitation leads to climate change and environmental degradation in the country and increases its vulnerability to natural hazards. Further, Papua New Guinea is often used as a source, destination and transit country for individuals subjected to human trafficking — particularly for prostitution and forced labor.
However, progress is being made. The Asia Development Bank (ADB) has proposed supporting poverty reduction in Papua New Guinea by aiding the country in improving internal and external transport links and enhancing energy access. The ADB also seeks to remove core infrastructure blockages to provide economic opportunity and access to basic social services.
The organization wants to boost job creation as well as work with small businesses to increase profits. ADB will also continue to promote participation by women in the workplace and attempt to mainstream gender equality in all projects they have a hand in.
Internally, in early 2013, the government of Papua New Guinea introduced a fee-free education policy up to the ninth grade to expand access to basic education. It also implemented a free healthcare policy. The National Health Plan (2010 – 2020) aims to fight high infant and maternal mortality rates.
– Kayla Provencher