“Around 40 people have died after two buses crashed head-on in one of ‘impoverished’ Papua New Guinea’s worst ever road accidents …” (AFP, Jan 13).
According to this article, PNG is labelled as impoverished by Australia.
That is a possible reasoning for Australia’s continued assistance to PNG via its aid programmes.
However, by what measurable indicators do we substantiate that we are indeed destitute and in need of help from others?
Living in a remote environment in the Highlands of PNG, I am interested in the yardstick used by foreigners to measure poverty in this country.
While I am surrounded by the freshest, most abundant sources of organic vegetables in my gardens and a never-ending supply of clean fresh water, does that mean I am poor and hungry?
I live in a hut but it has been custom designed over generations to keep out the cold with a fireplace that provides warmth and an abundance of firewood that will ensure the future generations are provided for.
At least I am not a homeless human trying to keep warm in the middle of winter somewhere in King’s Cross, Sydney.
I may not earn enough money to buy a car but I move around in some of the cheapest and reliable transport services from the little money I earn in selling my excess garden produce.
It may not be too comfortable for the likes of some, but it takes me to my destination.
The roads may not be reliable but that’s beyond my control because I don’t pay tax as I don’t have a regular income.
But I have lots of wantoks who chip in from time to time for my urgent needs and I often assist them in whatever ways I can like chipping in a pig or two from my flock for a bride price or compensation.
I can’t afford a family doctor but my children are healthy as they have the best food to eat from our gardens and are hardened to most ailments by blood.
And since I don’t pay any income tax, the aid post in our village is lacking in medicine.
But there is always the local medicine man.
Now, we mostly wear the standard set of clothing but it may not be clean or in good condition but, from time to time, I prefer to wear my tanget when I am doing manual tasks around my home.
My children go to school at the village elementary school even though I am not happy with the standard of learning there.
I have no choice but to allow them to go there.
I try to ensure they are well fed and attend school everyday.
I do not have a bank account as the banks refused to allow me to open one because they wanted all sorts of IDs and forms when everyone else in my area (about 1,000 people) know who I am.
But I do keep some money in a secret place for the rainy days.
I may not have much but I always welcome others into my home and share what little I have.
So why am I being rated as impoverished when I can help myself, my family and others?
Where is the bottom line here?
The Government, through its agencies such as the Institute of National Affairs, should identify proxy indicators for measuring poverty by our own standards.
Currently, it seems that most of the systems in place are discriminatory and do not capture the actual state of affairs for the rural dwellers and, more likely than not, base our findings on studies conducted in urban settlements throughout the country. Lest we attempt to emulate standards that cannot be attained overnight, let us set our own “realistic” measurement indicators to better understand ourselves and align ourselves strategically to reach our development objectives for a prosperous PNG.
Mt Giluwe, WHP