Weekly Commentaries

This is Sunday Chronicle's weekly commentaries on various issues of interest affecting the country. All individual commentators are done by elite Papua New Guineans from diverse educational backgrounds.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Measuring Poverty in Papua New Guinea

POVERTY COMMENTARY
By BENNY SANDEKA

PRIME Minister Sir Michael Somare stunned the Australian audience recently when he told journalists that there is no poverty in PNG because nobody is starving. 

As a true nationalist, born and bred in his own country and now at its helm, the Prime Minister is definitely not wrong. In Papua New Guinea, poverty is measured by the surplus of food or lack of it. People whose subsistence food production is low are considered in PNG societies as poor whilst those who have higher food production are better off. 

So in PNG, where land still supports majority of people for their daily subsistence, there is no poverty in this country from our perspective.

But why are the Australians stunned? Well, its mere clash of culture and definition of what constitutes poverty. In the western societies, poverty is measured by several things.  They include per capita incomes, life-expectancy, child and maternal mortality rates, literacy rates amongst a few others.

According to western societies, poor countries are characterized by low life expectancies (how long people live from birth to death), high rates of death of children before reaching the age of three or five years (child mortality), mothers die whilst giving birth (infant and maternal mortality) low literacy rates (many people cannot read and write) and low incomes per capita (people who survive on US$2.00 per day).

It is considered that, when people can read and write, they will have the capacity to take advantage of opportunities presented.  By doing so, they can earn an income and thus afford to make different choices.  A low literacy rate indicates many things. They include but are not limited to, lack of classrooms, lack of teachers, lack of teaching materials, low retention rates of school age children and no money to afford school fees.

On the same token, life expectancies and infant/maternal mortality gives an indication of many other things.  They include but are not limited to: no access to health services, poor health services, no health infrastructures, no medical workers present or simply, nogat marasin.

Despite being an island of gold floating on a sea of oil, Papua New Guinea is still considered a poor country because of its low social indicators.  Take for instance in 1997: PNG's life expectancy at birth is 57 - much lower than Solomon Islands (63) Fiji (72) and Vanuatu (64). This indicates that Papua New Guineans die at an early age due to factors mentioned above.  Infant mortality rate stands at 64 per 100 live births - the worst in the Pacific region behind Solomon Islands and Vanuatu at 41 per 100 live births recorded with Fiji having the best record at 21 children dying per 100 live births.

So whilst the Prime Minister may be right in as far as measuring poverty in his country by food, what good does food do to anyone if one does not live long or have many choices? Papua New Guinea is part of the global community. And so, to integrate into this community of nations worldwide, we have to measure ourselves with the same standards.  If they are measuring poverty by Life Expectancies, Mortality Rates and Literacy Rates, we must forgo our one measurement of poverty and measure poverty on the same standards. At least, just for the time being, forgo our PNG ways for a little while.

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