Papua New Guinea is home to around 6.7 million people, with approximately 87 per cent living in rural areas. Five influential studies conducted over a 30 year period suggest a strong spatial component to disadvantage and show relatively little change in the poorest areas over time. Isolation, lack of income earning opportunities and geography appear to be important factors in community disadvantage. At an individual level, poor education attainment and malnutrition are characteristics the disadvantaged have in common.
A survey of 262 families in the Obura-Wonenara district of Eastern Highlands Province provides insight into the lives of the rural poor and shows dire levels of hardship. The lives of the villagers surveyed are dominated by vulnerability to disasters, ill health, low cash incomes and limited income earning potential. Improving education access and quality and reducing the isolation of communities through the provision of infrastructure are important policy responses to address disadvantage.
To monitor changes in levels of disadvantage, the maternal mortality rate and the incidence of stunting in children should be considered key indicators of success. More work on possible policy options to address disadvantage in remote rural communities should emerge from the implementation of CARE’s Integrated Community Development Project and planned research on risks and coping mechanisms of people living in remote rural Papua New Guinea.