The island of New Guinea is immense, being the world’s second-largest island over 300,000 square miles in size. Additionally, it has nearly 15 million people divided between the independent country of Papua New Guinea and the two Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua. Poverty in New Guinea is a pressing issue in all three of these political regions of the island.
History of Indonesian New Guinea
The provinces of West Papua and Papua joined Indonesia following a vote in which elders voted in front of occupying Indonesian troops in 1969. The western half of the island became one province. In 2003 it became split into West Papua and Papua.
This lack of local control is an essential component of poverty in New Guinea as the populace of the western half of the island lacks political control of their vast natural resources. Papua and West Papua are the poorest regions of Indonesia. These two provinces are incredibly rich in mineral and timber resources. Despite billions of dollars of resource extraction a year, these resources have not helped the local populace as more than a quarter of the population is in poverty.
Much like Indonesian New Guinea, Papua New Guinea has a wealth of natural resources. Despite these resources 37% of the population lives in poverty. This has occurred as unfortunately, the country’s immense natural resources have not been used to substantially improve the standard of living in the country.
Child Poverty in New Guinea
In Papua New Guinea, illiteracy remains prevalent and rural areas have less access to schools as less than 50% of rural children attend school. Child hunger is another component of poverty in the country. Evidence shows that many children in Papua New Guinea are malnourished, and 43% suffer a delay in growth due to insufficient food.
Poverty in New Guinea also heavily impacts children in Indonesian New Guinea. Child hunger rates are very high in Papua, as about 40% of children have stunted growth due to malnutrition. The province has made improvements in terms of schooling, but nearly 40% of children do not attend school.
In West Papua, about 45% of children have stunted growth due to malnutrition. However, the overwhelming majority of children do attend school, with only 12% not attending. This is the highest rate of school participation on the island between the three political areas.
Healthcare in New Guinea
In the Indonesian Papua, healthcare is far from ideal. There are very few medical personnel in Papua to serve the population as “some Papuan districts have less than one doctor and five nurses per 10,000 people.” Additionally, health clinics are typically under supported in the province. Healthcare access became further complicated because much of the population live in remote regions that are difficult to access.
The impact of healthcare on poverty in New Guinea is felt in neighboring Papua New Guinea. There is a very similar level shortage of medical personnel in Papua New Guinea as in Indonesian Papua. There are “0.5 physicians per 10,000 population and 5.3 nurses per 10,000 population.” The lack of medical personnel in Papua New Guinea became further complicated by “low wages and poor physical infrastructure.”
Poverty in New Guinea is an important issue that faces the entire island despite being separated into different political regions. Poverty rates remain high across the island despite the natural resource wealth of the island. Child malnutrition, lack of school attendance and healthcare access impact Papua, West Papua and Papua New Guinea.
– Coulter Layden