Rest in peace, our captain
Prominent newsman’s candid remarks to PM

Rich paradise or poor third world nation?

Apprehensive boyJEFFREY FEBI

LUFA - There's disagreement about whether Papua New Guinea is rich or impoverished.

Many people, including leaders like Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare and current prime minister James Marape, support the view that we are in fact rich.

Many others, including myself, differ. We believe Papua New Guinea is a poor nation.

Perhaps the difference in opinion stems from the definition of ‘rich’ that each group subscribes to.

Let me refer to the two groups as Group_Rich and Group_Poor, where the former supports the rich PNG view and the latter supports the poor PNG view.

The Group_Rich definition of being rich sees Papua New Guinea as a nation with fertile land that sustains lush tropical forests and great biodiversity.

In their eyes its land has, without fail, fed its growing population for over 40,000 years, perhaps 50,000.

In recent times, minerals and hydrocarbon wealth have been discovered across the breath and length of the land, giving it the unofficial title of an ‘island of gold floating on a sea of oil’.

Simply put, in this more optimistic view, the land provides sufficient free food and its people own the land and everything on and in it.

So by virtue of this, Papua New Guinea is rich.

The Group_Poor definition of being rich is very different. It perceives Papua New Guinea as a part of the modern world that relies on complex international trade and economics.

Its place and value in this world is determined by international standards and rules. And these set out clearly the criteria that defines how rich or poor a nation (and its people) really are.

Simply put, a nation is rich if its people not only have assets like natural resources, education, skills and capital, but are able to meet their basic daily needs of health, education, water, and food security without difficulty.

Now, if one uses the Group_Rich definition alone, Papua New Guinea is a filthy rich country. But is this true?

Consider the plight of countless people seeking medical treatment who die trying. How about those people who continue to face countless adversities just to get an education despite the low quality it comes with?

Do we even care about the long walks mothers and daughters take almost every day to fetch water for drinking and cooking?

Perhaps the most honourable thing to say is not that Papua New Guinea is rich, nor is it poor, but rather challenged in every way possible.

We have yet to find a way forward.


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Francis Nii

Simply put, having so many resources under our feet or on the surface of the soil does not mean we are rich or better off.

Only when those resources are converted into wealth and they enable betterment of our standard of living, then we are rich or better off.

Based on this premises, the catchphrase "so rich yet so poor" very fittingly says it all for PNG.

Jordan Dean

There are kids begging for money at the traffic lights, pick-pockets at bus stops and markets, buai sellers and squatter settlements sprouting every where in Port Moresby and other cities in PNG.

Two weeks ago, I was held up at gun point and my vehicle was stolen. I don't see anything 'rich' in that.

I see an impoverished country that can do better if managed prudently.

Corney Korokan Alone

We have our challenges like everywhere else including the developed world.
Nevertheless we have to be very careful with "carefully controlled narratives" and "gaslighting" that is amplified across the world, which paves the way for medicinal mercenaries to kill than build.

Michael Dom

Are our people rich or poor?

The national average is that 40% of people are below the poverty line.

And the Gini index is 52.9, leaning towards unequal income and expenditure distribution. [This is a measure of the distribution of income across a population.]

Absolute levels are arguable.

Economists agree that "a household's sense of well-being depends not just on its average income or expenditures, but also on the risks it faces. Hence vulnerability is a more satisfactory measure of welfare".

Go here for a technical working paper

"Vulnerability (and poverty) are significantly different across different regions of PNG."

"The fraction of the population that faces a risk of poverty is considerably different from the fraction that is observed to be poor".

Forget the categorisations and look at the population statistics.

One primary evidence of vulnerability is infant under nutrition and malnutrition

The cost of under nutrition and malnutrition is estimated at US$508 million annually (Save the Children Report, June 2017).

Stunting is high across all regions 40-60% and is prevalent across wealth categories from poorest to richest (PNG Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2009-2010).

In Momase region alone, 50% of children and 60% of women are anaemic and have severe Vitamin A deficiency (IMR Journal article, 1999).

Fact check National Health Department statistics in 2006:
- Infants <30 days old = 29 per 1,000 births
- Infant mortality (under 1yrs old) = 57 per 1,000 live births
- Child mortality (1-5 yrs old) = 75 per live 1,000 births
- Maternal mortality = 733 per 100,000 live births
(Excluding children 'born dead' and fetuses and/or mothers not making it to full term.)

Life expectancy at birth was 57 in 2006.

Acute respiratory infections, malaria, tuberculosis, cholera and typhoid, all disease occurring in PNG, are associated with poor living conditions, unsafe water, sanitation and hygiene, which are also indicators of poverty.

A few associated statistics are:

Adult literacy is 58%.

Electricity access = 3.2% rural 59% urban households in 1996

Piped water access = 8.5% rural and 71.7% urban communities in 1996

Health staff per 100,000 population = 166 rural and 574 urban in 2000.

Check out the World Bank 2004 Poverty Assessment report for more information

If you want to answer the question 'is PNG rich or poor', then think of the welfare of your people before counting their money or the available wealth surrounding them.

The latter two are resources (capital and assets) that we should use to secure our peoples well-being.

If you are satisfied with the statistics then all good, we have nothing to worry about and our political leaders can continue with business as usual.

Philip Fitzpatrick

You may be asking the wrong question Jeff.

Perhaps you should be asking whether THE PEOPLE of Papua New Guinea are rich or impoverished.

The answer to that of course is that a few are rich, the majority are materially poor and some are actually impoverished.

That too is, however, a subjective answer.

Papua New Guinea, as a national entity, SHOULD be rich but it isn't because it's economy has been mismanaged, stolen and ripped off by its elites and by external interests.

If the economy had been managed properly the rich would be less rich, the materially poor better off and impoverishment non-existent.

Papua New Guinea as a nation is richly endowed but its people don't rightfully share in this endowment.

Stephen Charteris

I totally agree with Jeffrey and David's remarks. Having lived for about 35 years in the "mountain of gold floating on a sea of oil", the PNG I see has got measurably poorer.

One take on wealth is to look at the delivery of health care. A recent article published by WHO ( states "For every 1000 births in Papua New Guinea, as many as 9 mothers and 24 newborn babies die."

That translates to a maternal mortality rate (MMR) of 900 mothers and 2,400 infants for every 100,000 births. This is a tragedy that should cause every man to weep for the womenfolk and children of PNG.

These and educational opportunities for a growing population are the only measures of wealth that matter. There is an old and wise saying. "The first wealth of a nation is health, the second is education."

I believe there are ways to address this and those pathways and potential solutions lie in the hands of the people - not with the mountains of gold or the sea of oil.

David Kitchnoge

Well said Jeffrey Febi. I subscribe to both views and believe that rapid urbanisation is bad for us.

We already are a happy and resilient people. All we need are a functioning school and a reliable clinic at the village level supported by a well developed secondary and tertiary level systems and reliable access.

Sensible spending in education, health, access roads, bridges and jetties + access to clean water for those communities that don't have it should be our focus.

Places like Port Moresby must stop eating up a large chunk of our government spending.

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