According to latest assessments presented at a conference in Sydney, Australia last week, more than 1 million people in Papua New Guinea live in extreme poverty.
Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister, Sir Michael Somare, has been weathering a storm of controversy after he told an audience in Canberra in May that no one in his country goes hungry.
On May 15, politicians, public servants, community leaders and businesspeople from PNG gathered for a Lowy Institute conference on the issue.
The Lowy Institute is Sydney had planned its conference on Extreme Poverty in PNG long before Sir Michael's comments catapulted the issue into the newspapers.Out of touch
According to the United Nations poverty is living on less than 1 US dollar a day.
The Australian government's aid agency AUSAid said 40 percent of Papua New Guineans come under this category.
Living in extreme poverty often means having almost no access to health care or education.
Dr Mike Bourke from the Australian National University told the conference more than 1 million Papua New Guineans live in extreme poverty.
“People in extreme poverty in Papua New Guinea many of them live on less than a hundred Kina (under $US37) a year,” he said.
“Most of the poorer people in PNG are rural villagers - they live sometimes on the highlands but on the edge of the highlands.
“They live in the inland lowland areas and the worst areas are those two areas.”
The conference heard extreme poverty can mean as many as 40% of children dying before they turn one and 8 to 10% of women dying in childbirth.
Early death is so common that many of these communities have no adults with grey hair.
There was anger with Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare for not taking the issue of poverty seriously.
Sarah Garap, a community leader based in the PNG Highlands, believes too many of PNG's leaders are out of touch with the grassroots.
“I think the honourable Sir Michael Somare as our Prime Minister is comfortable with the rest of the members of parliament and therefore I think he wouldn't understand the suffering of the majority of rural Papua New Guineans, particularly our social safety net system has sort of broken down many years ago.”
From her many years experience working with local communities Ms Garap said women are poorest of the poor and the situation is getting worse.
“In terms of decision making processes, where women's voices are supposed to be heard and included, women are basically not present,” she said.
“So how do development programs and plans get to be made if the rest of the community are excluded in terms of voices being heard and aspirations being seen and supported?”Bureaucratic maze
Areas that have seen mining investment are not immune from poverty.
Bulolo in Morobe province has seen mining and exploration but it still has high levels of malnutrition, shortages of doctors, health workers and teachers and roads that make it impossible for people to get their crops to market.
Local MP, Sam Basil, says far too much money ends up in the hands of the bureaucracy and he says it is time to cut provincial governments.
“In Morobe province, we have 7,000 people on the payroll,” he said.
“If we really audit the process, half of them shouldn't be there.
“Those functions should be transferred to the district so the district should run its own programs.”…..Article from Radio Australia, website: http://www.radioaustralianews.net.au