Papua New Guinea is the world’s 54th largest country, covering 462,840 km2 (178,704 sq mi). It is located between latitudes 0° and 12° S and longitudes 140° and 160° E, including all of its islands.
The country’s terrain is varied and, in parts, very rough. The New Guinea Highlands stretch the length of the island of New Guinea, creating a populated highlands area mainly covered in tropical rainforest, and the long Papuan Peninsula, known as the ‘Bird’s Tail. Dense rainforests may be found in the lowland and coastal regions, as well as extremely extensive wetland areas around the Sepik and Fly rivers. This topography has made it difficult for the nation to build transportation infrastructure. Some places can only be reached by foot or by aircraft. Mount Wilhelm, at 4,509 metres, is the highest point (14,793 ft). Papua New Guinea is bordered by coral reefs, which are being closely monitored in the interest of preservation.
The nation is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire, near the meeting point of multiple tectonic plates. There are many active volcanoes in the area, and eruptions are common. Earthquakes are quite frequent, and they are occasionally followed by tsunamis.
The country’s mainland is the eastern half of New Guinea island, which also contains the country’s biggest cities, including Port Moresby (capital) and Lae; other significant islands within Papua New Guinea are New Ireland, New Britain, Manus, and Bougainville.
Snowfall occurs in the most elevated areas of the mainland of Papua New Guinea, making it one of the few places near the equator to experience it.
Papua New Guinea has a tropical climate and is located just south of the equator. Temperatures in the highlands, on the other hand, are noticeably cooler. The (very) wet season lasts from about December to March. The months of June through September are ideal for hiking.
Papua New Guinea is one of the world’s most diverse countries. There are hundreds of indigenous ethnic groups in Papua New Guinea, the majority of them being Papuans, whose ancestors arrived in the New Guinea area tens of thousands of years ago. The region’s other indigenous peoples are Austronesians, whose ancestors arrived fewer than four thousand years ago.
Chinese, Europeans, Australians, Indonesians, Filipinos, Polynesians, and Micronesians are among those who have moved here from various areas of the globe (the last four belonging to the Austronesian family). In 1975, there were about 40,000 expatriates in Papua New Guinea, the majority of them were from Australia and China.
The courts and government practice support the constitutional right to free expression, opinion, and belief, and no legislation to restrict such rights has been enacted. According to the 2011 census, 95.6 percent of residents identified as members of a Christian church, 1.4 percent were not Christian, and 3.1 percent did not respond to this census question. Those who said they had no religion accounted for about 0% of the total. Many people blend their Christian religion with local religious traditions.
Protestants make up the majority of Christians in Papua New Guinea, accounting for approximately 70% of the overall population. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, several Pentecostal groups, the United Church of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, the Evangelical Alliance Papua New Guinea, and the Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea are the most prominent. Aside from Protestants, there is a significant Roman Catholic minority, accounting for about 25% of the population.
The Bahai Faith has a significant following among non-Christians. In addition, there are about 4,000 Muslims in the nation. The majority are Sunnis, with a minor proportion being Ahmadis. Throughout the nation, non-traditional Christian churches and non-Christian religious organizations are active. According to the Papua New Guinea Council of Churches, Muslim and Confucian missionaries are active, and international missionary activity in general is high.
Animism is common in traditional faiths. Some also practice Veneration of the Dead, but generalization is dangerous given the great variety of Melanesian cultures. The belief in masalai, or bad spirits, who are blamed for “poisoning” humans, bringing disaster and death, is widespread among traditional tribes, as is the practice of puripuri (sorcery).
Papua New Guinea is blessed with abundant natural resources, including mineral and renewable resources such as forests, marine (containing a significant percentage of the world’s main tuna stocks), and agricultural in certain areas. The rugged terrain, which includes high mountain ranges and valleys, swamps, and islands, as well as the high cost of developing infrastructure, combined with other factors (including serious law and order problems in some centers and the customary land title system), makes it difficult for outside developers. Years of inadequate investment in education, health, ICT, and access to financing have hampered local developers. Agriculture, both for subsistence and commercial crops, employs 85 percent of the people and accounts for 30 percent of GDP. Mineral resources, such as gold, oil, and copper, contribute for 72% of total export profits. Oil palm production has increased significantly in recent years (mostly from estates and with considerable outgrower output), and palm oil is now the primary agricultural export. Coffee is the primary export crop among participating households (produced mostly in the Highlands regions), followed by cocoa and coconut oil/copra from the coastal areas, both primarily produced by smallholders, and tea produced on estates and rubber. In the Papuan fold and thrust belt, the Iagifu/Hedinia Field was found in 1986.
Following the 1997 agreement that ended Bougainville’s secessionist unrest, former Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta attempted to restore integrity to state institutions, stabilize the kina, restore stability to the national budget, privatize public enterprises where appropriate, and ensure ongoing peace on Bougainville. The Morauta administration was quite successful in getting international help, especially from the IMF and the World Bank in obtaining development assistance loans. Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare has significant difficulties, including restoring investor confidence, continuing attempts to privatize government assets, and retaining the support of members of Parliament.
Because to prolonged economic and social stagnation, the United Nations Development Programme Policy recommended for Papua New Guinea’s classification as a developing country to be demoted to least-developed country in March 2006. The International Monetary Fund, on the other hand, concluded in late 2008 that “a combination of conservative fiscal and monetary policies, as well as strong global prices for mineral commodity exports, have supported Papua New Guinea’s recent robust economic development and macroeconomic stability.” By 2012, PNG has had a decade of solid economic development, with annual growth rates of more than 6% since 2007, even throughout the Global Financial Crisis years of 2008/9. According to the Asian Development Bank, PNG’s real GDP growth rate in 2011 was 8.9 percent, and 9.2 percent in 2012.
This economic growth has been primarily attributed to strong commodity prices, particularly mineral but also agricultural, with the high demand for mineral products largely sustained even during the crisis by buoyant Asian markets, a thriving mining sector, and especially since 2009 by a buoyant outlook and the construction phase for natural gas exploration, production, and exportation in liquid form (exploration, production wells, pipelines, storage, liquefaction plants, port terminals, LNG tanker ships).
The first significant gas project is the PNG LNG project, headed by ExxonMobil, which is set to begin production in late 2014, primarily for export to China, Japan, South Korea, and other Asian nations. This ExxonMobil-led partnership comprises Oil Search, a PNG firm headquartered in Port Moresby, with a 29 percent stake.
A second major project is based on initial rights held by Total S.A., the French oil and gas major, and InterOil Corp. (IOC), which have partly combined their assets after Total agreed in December 2013 to purchase 61.3 percent of IOC’s Antelope and Elk gas field rights, with the plan to develop them beginning in 2016, including the construction of a liquefaction plant to allow export. Total S.A. has a separate joint operating agreement with the PNG firm Oil Search.
Royal Dutch Shell, an Anglo-Dutch conglomerate, said in 2011 that it is contemplating investing in gas exploration and production in Papua New Guinea.
More gas and mineral projects are being considered (including the massive Wafi-Golpu copper-gold mine), and significant exploration is taking place throughout the nation.
Economic ‘growth’ based on extractive industries has a negative impact on local populations. River tailings in the huge Fly River, underwater tailings from the new Ramu-Nickel-Cobalt mine, which began exports in late 2012 (after a delay due to landowner-led legal challenges), and planned submarine mining in the Bismarck Sea have all sparked controversy (by Nautilus Minerals). Other paths to sustainable development should be explored, according to one significant initiative carried out by the PNG Department of Community Development.
The PNG government’s long-term Vision 2050 and shorter-term policy documents, such as the 2013 Budget and the 2014 Responsible Sustainable Development Strategy, emphasize the need for a more diverse economy based on sustainable industries and avoiding the effects of Dutch Disease from major resource extraction projects undermining other industries, as has happened in many other countries. Measures have been taken to mitigate these effects, including the establishment of a sovereign wealth fund, in part to stabilize revenue and expenditure flows, but much will depend on the willingness to make real reforms to effectively use revenue, combat rampant corruption, and empower households and businesses to access markets and services, as well as develop a more buoyant economy with lower unemployment.
Every five years, the Institute of National Affairs, a PNG independent policy think tank, publishes a report on the business and investment environment of Papua New Guinea based on a survey of large and small, local and foreign companies, highlighting law and order issues and corruption as the most significant impediments, followed by poor transportation, power, and communications infrastructure.