PORT MORESBY — Papua New Guinea has a population of approximately 7.5 million. It is a resource-rich country, with oil, gas and gold reserves as well as fertile land capable of producing high crop yields. Despite this, however, an estimated 40 percent of Papua New Guinean’s live below the poverty line of $1.25 per day. Since food insecurity and resources are not an issue, then, the question must be asked as to what the causes of poverty in Papua New Guinea are.
An estimated 85 percent of the Papua New Guinean population lives in rural areas and, consistent with global trends, poverty levels are higher in these communities than in towns and cities. For those who live in these isolated regions, basic services such as healthcare and education can be hard to come by, leading to multiple problems that can drive them into poverty.
The inability of rural inhabitants to receive adequate healthcare is perhaps the most damaging in the struggle against poverty. Healthcare facilities are scarce, meaning that sick patients may have to travel more than a day to see their community health worker, who is often not a qualified doctor.
Papua New Guinea has fewer than 400 doctors in total, with only an estimated 51 of these working outside of the capital city, Port Moresby. Similarly, there is a shortage of nurses, with recent figures suggesting only one nurse per 2,270 people. This ultimately means that for those in rural areas, illnesses which could be easily treated can cause serious issues for those unable to receive the appropriate care.
Education is similarly problematic and another of the primary causes of poverty in Papua New Guinea. For those in rural areas, education suffers from a lack of funding and resources. The country also struggles with a severe shortage of teachers, meaning that even where a school exists children are still unable to receive a formal education.
Because of this, an estimated 25 percent of children are unable to attend school, with current figures suggesting 600,000 children currently do not receive an education. This may lead to issues in later life, with around half of Papua New Guinean adults not having basic literacy skills, something which severely hampers employment opportunities, further pushing many into poverty.
As in many developing nations, a lack of effective infrastructure is also one of the key causes of poverty in Papua New Guinea. Only seven percent of Papua New Guineans have access to both an electricity grid and centralised water filtration system. The lack of electricity not only influences everyday lives but also the ability of healthcare facilities to provide adequate care. Limited access to water systems has similar detrimental effects, with the lack of clean water and sanitation leading to diarrhoeal diseases and cholera, both of which are major causes of illness and death among the country’s children.
Roads in rural areas either don’t exist or are poorly maintained, primarily due to erosion of the soil because of heavy rainfall. This creates further problems for those in rural communities, making travelling to school or for medical care both difficult and dangerous.
While much of the poverty in Papua New Guinea exists in rural regions, urban areas are not free from factors that influence poverty. Migration to larger towns and cities is increasing, however often those who make the move find themselves in a similar situation caused by their lack of education or employability traits. Unemployment is widespread, which leads men to steal, rob and gamble to feed themselves and their families. Women are similarly impacted, often turning to prostitution to earn money at the risk of potentially debilitating disease.
While there are many issues, the government of Papua New Guinea is making every effort to combat poverty. Economic performance has increased, with significant gains in GDP over recent years. This has led to the government creating the National Education Plan, a scheme aimed at introducing free primary schooling to raise education levels. In 2013, this age group was extended, meaning all children up to the ninth grade can now receive free education. In healthcare, the National Health Plan was introduced, targeting the high infant and maternal mortality rates. While it may take some time to see results, steps in this direction appear positive.
There are numerous causes of poverty in Papua New Guinea, however, government policy appears to be focusing on the correct areas. With increased focus on healthcare and education, as well as investigating ways of targeting issues of infrastructure, it is possible that the country may begin to win its battle against poverty.
– Gavin Callander