Development in Papua New Guinea

This Photo-Essay was entered into the Human Category of an Internal Year 11 Competition

Off a small island off the coast of Cape Vogel, in Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea, tourists explore the local area by motor yacht. A media representation of the place has undoubtedly lured these “outsiders” to the beauty of the coral reefs and rolling hills of the tropical rainforest. As these “outsiders” explore the reef, Papua New Guinean children, sail a homemade kayak to view something that to them is equally mysterious and magnificent: the visitors’ vessel. Foreign tourists visit once or twice a year by boat; the coast is the most accessible part of the country as there are very few roads in the interior, which is entirely shrouded in rainforest.

Whilst it is easy to presume that the visitors would be the ill-informed, and that the indigenous population would have explored the area in detail, surprisingly, the travellers would surely discover more than their local counterparts: swimming with snorkels, seeing in high focus. The local people would not see the reefs as clearly underwater; lacking the equipment, they have an extensive but, in some ways, more limited “insider” perspective. By exploring what influences perception of a place, we can further encourage the preservation of cultures without diluting them and promote sustainable development.

Much of Papua New Guinea remains undeveloped and its natural landscapes remain relatively untouched. The tropical jungles are high in biodiversity and are globally significant. Travellers throughout history have studied, photographed and painted natural features of these islands as well as depicting the traditional lives of the people who live there. For example, naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace visited it in 1858, and was blown away by its biodiversity, while contemporary artists draw inspiration from the colourful tribes that inhabit the highlands.

Today Papua New Guinea is a developing country that has some of worst human development indicators in education, health and life expectancy. There is an extreme contrast in development, between Papua New Guinea and the origin countries of the visiting tourists. The GDP of the UK in 2019 was $2.77 trillion, whereas Papua New Guinea’s was $23.6 billion. Geographical isolation significantly hinders education, in a country plagued by natural hazards such as landslides, cyclones, and tectonic hazards. As a result, the literacy rate in Papua New Guinea is the lowest in Oceania, at 61.6% in 2010.

The issues facing Papa New Guinea are numerous and complex. Natural disasters act as a barrier to development. For example, Cyclone Trevor, which struck the Cape Vogel area on the 16th March destroyed many palm and wooden structures and buildings, including the local school which closed indefinitely as a result. An abundance of minerals such as gold and nickel result in the destruction of pristine habitats, release pollutants and encourage employment of often illegal miners in poor conditions. For example, the Porgera Gold Mine in the interior accounting for 12% of the country’s exports, employs a private security force which carries out killings, gang rape and defends the mine from the nightly raids by illegal miners. Corruption is an issue that pervades every political organisation in the country, with Transparency International ranking Papua New Guinea 136th out of 176 countries. This is due to the popular ideology since the 1970s of ‘politician-turned-businessman’. Hence the extraction of valuable natural resources such as minerals, timber, fish and petroleum has resulted in little improvement to the country’s socio-economic structure and infrastructure, rather lining the pockets of ex-politicians.

If Papua New Guinea is to develop, corruption will need to be eradicated, however, it is vital that the country encourages natural resource management, to preserve its natural wealth and develop sustainably.

(Photo: © Cosmo Le Breton)