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PNG population has exploded to 19 million

A hostile crowd gathers in Kaugere, Port Moresby, after a young man was fatally knifed. The mob later torched several houses owned by Engan residents (Photo: Courtesy Hon Justin Tkatchenko's Facebook)


NOOSA –Papua New Guinea has underestimated its population by nearly half, research by United Nations and British experts have found.

Previous estimates, based on the last census 12 years ago, had put the population at about nine million.

But now The Australian newspaper reports that the figure of 17 million people halves the average income for each Papua New Guinean at K4,328 a year “putting it in the same class as Africa’s struggling African states such as Sudan and Senegal”.

The newspaper said the PNG government was so sensitive about the new estimate that it refused to allow it to be published locally.

Most of the growth is thought to be in the Highlands, many parts of which are being torn apart by tribal warfare.

PNG prime minister James Marape told The Australian he doubted the new study.

Marape said he believed the population was possibly 10 or 11 million but conceded he may be wrong and that even his lower estimate “is too high for the size of my economy”.

“Whether it is 17 million, or 13 million or 10 million, the fact remains that my country’s formal economy is so small, job availability is so small, the resource envelope is so small, I cannot adequately educate, provide health cover, build infrastructures and create the enabling law and order environment,” Marape said.

The newspaper also reported Paul Barker, the respected director of PNG’s Institute of National Affairs, saying that large areas of the country were effectively ungoverned, relying on churches and traditional tribal structures for community cohesion.

“Formal sector employment has been virtually nil over the past 10 years,” Barker said. “It’s causing big frustrations for young people in particular, whose aspirations of course have grown.

“The other problem is that the government has been chasing its tail trying to provide basic health education and other services,” Barker said.

Thanks to John Greenshields for spotting the article


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Michael Dom

Marape is clueless.

Kevin O'Regan

A timely subject indeed and I consider Trevor Shelley's comments on observations in the remote areas to be accurate.

Earlier this year prime minister Marape and the Morobe governor accompanied with other dignitaries flew into remote Menyama and estimates of the people that gathered were between 500,000 and 800,000.

Anytime a major announcement is made In Mendi or Ialibu, similar size gatherings are photographed.

If NID registrations aren't keeping up with population growth, where to from here PNG? I find it a very sobering thought.

Trevor Shelley

I have thought for many years that PNG's population had exploded much more than generally accepted.

Until 2015, my work took me to many remote areas where I had occasion to speak to people in hamlets and villages. Often I was gobsmacked by the number of adults and children swarming around the villages.

Many of the old customs have now fallen away as there are just too many kids who find following the Western ways a lot easier.

Things for PNG are concerning.

Paul Oates

Since there has not been any effective national census in PNG for many years, the essence of the concern over what the population of PNG is, or might be, is not based on actual knowledge. Commentators have however been warning about this problem on this site for many years.

There are at least two inescapable factors at work in today’s PNG. The original birth control practiced in a PNG village centred around breast feeding and traditional culture.

To a large degree, in rural areas these aspects have now broken down and altered the population balance with available resources. Tribal warfare in some areas has again become the norm where reportedly, government control no longer exists.

Due to expected opportunities, migration to the towns and cities has also assembled a large urban population of young adults of child-bearing age.

Only a few years ago, at least half of PNG’s known population was under 19 years of age. Lack of employment and no traditional land to grow food now only exacerbates this nascent problem.

On top of everything, there is an obvious disconnect between those in positions of power and the reality to be able to take any effective action and responsibility over anything except trying to be re-elected. Educating young people is the first step along a very long road.

To have any idea of where this situation is going is easy. Just look at many parts of Africa today and see what is happening. Overpopulation is creating the potential for mass migration and conflict.

Various political leaders and social commentators appear to be at a loss to discuss anything other than an urgent need for those who have food and wealth to help those who don’t.

Yet this humanitarian response seems to only delay and then create more suffering in the future as drought and famine ruin those areas that could produce a minimum of food, but only if they were allowed to regenerate.

Drought and famine used to stalk the ‘Horn of Africa’ every new decade as large numbers of young and old die from starvation. That ongoing situation is now spreading relentlessly in many other parts of Africa.

What those in Australia have been asleep to is that this same overpopulation is happening with our nearest neighbour. Yet no one seems to be aware of or have any idea what to do about it. If this report is accurate, neither does the PNG prime minister.

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