Friday, February 25, 2011

Papua New Guinea: two viewpoints on poverty

Recently I heard two very different takes on Papua New Guinea, Australia's northern neighbour (and former colony). The most recent was in the book Overloading Australia: how governments and media dither and deny on population (Mark O'Connor and William J. Lines, 2010).

In Chapter 6 "Snapshots: nation by nation" the first snapshot is of PNG.

Population growth takes place within nations and therefore over-population is primarily a national problem. Below are a series of snapshots of ways in which some nations are dealing, or not dealing, with their population-related problems.

Papua New Guinea: From about 660 000 people at the start of the twentieth century, PNG now has 6 million, and expects over 7 million by 2025. The capital, Port Moresby, sucks in population and is dominated by squatter settlements. 'Raskol' gangs roam the streets, raping and stealing with impunity. Guards and barbed wire protect houses. Back in 2003 the Treasurer, Bart Philemon called Port Moresby 'the dump of every city in PNG'. Outside the capital, it is often worse. In much of the southern highlands the government has lost control, teachers and officials have fled, and services have been withdrawn. Without doctors and nurses, deaths in childbirth have risen almost to what they are in a state of nature.

I will write a broader review of this book (which I don't agree with), but this contrast was too stark to ignore. What happened in between the start of the twentieth century and the chaos that the authors describe currently? Recently a glimpse of that history was afforded by my interview with John Tully about his book, a social history of rubber. Here's an excerpt, discussing Australia's colonial role in PNG's history:

What we did there was quite horrific, not just in the rubber plantations but in the mines. We basically disrupted the indigenous culture to an enormous degree, I don’t think it’s ever recovered from that – we displaced whole populations, we depopulated villages. Up until the early 1960s when the United Nations told us that the Australian government had to do something about it, we had an enormous battery of legislation or regulation which I think fully warrants the title of apartheid.

While the contrast between these two viewpoints is not explicit, it is still obvious.


  1. Greetings .

    Could these two different viewpoints fit into this somewhere ?

    First I think of how stronger or more dominant cultures assume
    the right to overpower and civilize distant lands . It is not just
    since the great improvements to sailing ships , but all through
    recorded history , that wealth has been created by expanding
    a groups territory . This is a part of the societies that we are
    born into .

    The second point , is how an expanding economy , seems to
    require an expanding population . Many Governments and our
    societies , feel that growing our population , will result in a
    strong and growing economy . This idea has worked well for
    many generations . But undesirable consequences , such as the
    poverty stricken Ghetto's , seem to outweigh the advantages , in
    these modern times .

    Now into our 21st century , we can see examples of how that this
    style of Empire building , can leave a terrible trail of social and
    moral type dilemma's .

    To me , the whole concept of improvement , needs to be discussed
    and re-evaluated to suit our 21st century conditions . Yet , there
    seems to be such a resistance , to learning lessons from history .

    Could it be as simple as , that many people look more to short
    term gain , than long term positive and sustainable building ?

    I've read about a " seven generations " role , in accepting new idea's.
    When a new proposal is looked at , the effect that it will have ,
    after seven generations have passed , is a main consideration .

    Possibly this older wisdom , could be of great benefit in our
    modern day times .

  2. I'll write a more considered review of the population book soonish. I was just drawing attention to the slack way in which its authors claim that PNG's problems come down to population growth - without mentioning anything else that may have happened. It shows disrespect for honest telling of history I think.


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