Seeing Papua New Guinea on the Road to Prosperity

The author (fifth from left) during a field visit in PNG.
The author (fifth from left) during a field visit in PNG.

By Syed Hussain Haider

Challenges are huge, but ADB-supported projects—especially in infrastructure—are helping make progress toward building a more prosperous PNG.

Moving to Papua New Guinea (PNG) has been a great learning experience for me, as I continue to explore this fascinating country.

PNG is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world, with 7.5 million people speaking about 850 listed languages. For the Google-savvy among us, one hit brings you the diversity as you tab-browse your way through vibrant colors, marvel at the scenic locations of adventure sports such as scuba diving, learn of the least explored but immensely rich culture, active volcanoes, virgin white sand beaches, an abundance of natural resources and 780 species of birds are some of the highlights of this beautiful country, which after a year here I have begun to associate with.

When I embarked on my relocation from Manila, Philippines to Port Moresby in June 2014, there was only one question on my mind: why is it that despite all its resources and being in the top 5 fastest-growing economies in the world, PNG is yet to make any mark on the global map? Upon arrival in my new destination, I was received warmly by an ADB colleague who immediately gave a partial reply to the issue that had occupied me during the entire flight.

Much of PNG’s territory, he explained, is hard to reach, with high mountains and 800 islands, many of which are only accessible by sea. Challenges are huge, but ADB’s projects—especially those in infrastructure—are helping make progress toward building a prosperous PNG. Being the largest lender to the government, ADB is helping PNG to develop its transport (land, sea and air) and energy infrastructure to serve the needs of the people and contribute to economic development, wealth creation and access to public services to all among the country’s widely distributed population.

ADB road and bridge projects are connecting PNG’s regions to promote trade and easy access to health centers, schools and businesses. People who used to spend 2 days to cover 50 km on foot can now travel the same distance by road in about an hour.

The Civil Aviation Development Program is setting new standards by not only introducing policy changes and upgrading the 21 national airports to meet International Civil Aviation Organization safety standards. Several airport terminal buildings under construction are becoming architectural icons by introducing a cultural-sensitive design, energy efficiency, and environmentally friendly features. New markets set up inside airports premises allow locals and especially women to sell and promote PNG handicrafts.

Improved energy infrastructure is likewise helping provide access to the affordable, reliable, green electricity that urban and rural areas need to pursue economic growth. With only 13% of the country connected to the power grid, most rely heavily on diesel generation – even in provincial capitals. ADB is extending transmission and distribution lines, rehabilitating vintage hydro power plants, and replacing polluting diesel with hydro, often in difficult geographic locations.

I see these changes as a new PNG in the making. I see children, men and women praising our work, but the most satisfying moment for me were when I saw women walking comfortably along our roads and making it easier for happy children to go to school. This is happiness and a sense of achievement which cannot be expressed on any worksheet or Power Point presentation. These people are the reason we are all in development, and their smiles give us the energy to strive to do better and more.