PNG has the lowest water and sanitation access indicators amongst the 15 developing Pacific Island nations. According to PNG’s Voluntary National Review (2020), average access to drinking water in the country is 45%. However, households in the bottom 40% wealth distribution segment have only 21% access to basic drinking water (as compared to 90% access in the best-off population segment). Average access to sanitation is lower at only 22%. The furthest behind groups are households in the bottom 40% of the wealth distribution with secondary education as the highest level of education, among which only 9% have access to a basic sanitation facility (compared to 56% in the best-off group) .
Access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) services is a basic human right. Providing safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water, sanitation facilities, and education on good hygiene practices are essential elements for the country’s integral development. Presently, a very low proportion of the PNG population has access to these essential services in rural and peri-urban settings, including health care facilities and academic institutions .
WaSH-related diseases have long term impacts, causing higher morbidity and death rates, reducing educational attainment, and causing significant economic impacts at both the household and national level . Diarrhoea is a major cause of morbidity in the country and WaSH related deaths are estimated at 6,164 per year. In addition, in 2009, cholera re-emerged in PNG after an absence of 50 years .
WaSH also has impacts on education. Most schools do not have access to piped water systems and depend on rainwater to meet the water and hygiene needs of students. Adolescent girls in school suffer the most. Only 8% of schools practice Menstrual Hygiene Management and only 10% of schools promote handwashing with soap. Many schools report absenteeism among adolescent girls, due to a lack of clean, private changing rooms without access to soap, water and sanitary pads. This hampers girls’ learning and may lead to girls’ early dropout .
Papua New Guinea (PNG) is the most populous country in the Pacific , home to over 9 million people . Between 75-80% of PNG’s population is rural based. Often rural areas are hard to reach, with poor access to roads and basic services, such as water, sanitation and hygiene (WaSH) . As a result, traditional hygiene behaviour such as open defecation remains widespread in rural areas .
In often overcrowded peri-urban areas such as the growing settlements (slums) in and on the edges of the capital city Port Moresby and other cities and towns, poor urban planning leads to failing water facilities, unsanitary storage and deteriorating sanitation. All of this causes unhygienic conditions and the spread of (infectious) diseases, putting health, lives and safety (mostly of women and girls) at risk. With one of the world’s fastest growing populations, the pressure on existing WaSH delivery mechanisms in PNG is constantly increasing .
Key policies and governance approach
GoPNG developed the National WaSH Policy 2015- 2030 which recognises WaSH access as a basic human right. It provides ambition for equitable access to safe, convenient and sustainable water supply and sanitation, and to promote improved hygiene practices . This policy introduces a framework for financing the expansion, rehabilitation and maintenance of water and sanitation service delivery primarily in rural and peri-urban settlement areas. The policy is anchored by two development milestones: the PNG Vision 2050 Plan, and the Development Strategic Plan 2010-2030 . Further, the MTDP III strives to bring WaSH development to the district level, focusing on district infrastructure and district economic enablers such as markets, roads and utilities .
The Government has established the WaSH Program Management Unit (PMU) , and recently several policies, standard and guiding documents have been developed to complement SDG6 and WaSH policy ambition. Such documents include: (i) the draft National WaSH Monitoring and Evaluation Framework, developed by the WaSH PMU to support standardisation of WaSH indicators and definitions (in line with the SDGs) for rural and urban communities, schools, and health care facilities and to track progress and financing; and (ii) the endorsement of the National WaSH in Schools Policy and Standards to outline minimum standards, specifications and ambitions for achieving 100% access to WaSH in schools by 2030 .
PNG has also developed the Water Supply and Sanitation Act 2016, which (i) provides for co-ordinated water supply and sanitation services and for the planning, design, construction and management of water supply and sanitation systems in the country; (ii) levies charges in respect of these services and systems, to make provision for the establishment of Water Papua New Guinea Limited as a company replacing the Waterboard; and (iii) repeals the National Water Supply and Sewerage Act 1986, among others .
SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES
While there is commendable progress at national level in the development of key WaSH sector reforms, there remains significant capacity challenges in planning, finance and service delivery at subnational level. Local level governments, who are responsible for WaSH service delivery, are constrained by remoteness, under-resourcing and low technical capacity. As a result, since 2015, the country has seen modest increases to WaSH service levels. Progress needs to be significantly accelerated and funding support increased if PNG is to achieve desired targets .
Huge financial gaps exist to support the implementation of SDG6 in PNG . According to the WaSH Policy, to reach the 2030 water and sanitation targets, an estimated K302 million (US$ 120 million) annual investment in infrastructure, operations and maintenance is required. Additionally, to establish the National Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Authority (NWSHA) head office, it will cost approximately K1.8 million per annum with an additional K 2.6 million per annum for salaries. The policy also proposes to establish sub-national offices in each province. Each sub-national NWSHA office will cost approximately K500,000 each, with a further K260,000 each, per annum in salaries . Since the launch of the WaSH Policy in 2015, the sector has, as of 2020, received only K11.5 million to support the administration of policy implementation, and actual program/project funding of K70 million in 2019 and 2020 .
Overall, however, the country has seen an improvement in the proportion of the population having access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation and hygiene facilities .
Initiatives and Development Plans
Until recently, PNG lacked a reliable WaSH management information system to track targets and inform decisions and investment. With the support of UNICEF, European Union and WaterAid, an interim management information system (MIS) has now been established using mWater, a free and open access system used to collect, manage and visualise WaSH related information.
While data collection across the 12 Districts represents a strong foundation for scaling government-led WaSH monitoring, significant investment is needed to ensure monitoring and evaluation is owned by national and sub-national stakeholders. The WaSH PMU is now moving to customise, roll out and institutionalise the MIS at subnational level. A national monitoring system will drive better evidence-based planning and decision making at all levels and the issue is critical to both the accountability and performance of the sector .
Several other initiatives are being implemented in PNG, including the UNICEF-EU WASH Klinpela Komuniti Projek (KKP) that is constructing WASH facilities in primary schools and health centers ; the World Bank’s Water Supply and Sanitation Development Project which is improving access to clean and reliable water supply services for the population of nine provincial towns and 10 rural districts across PNG ; and the Water for Women Fund under Australia's aid program which will invest $110.6 million over five years to improve the health, gender equality and well-being of Asian and Pacific communities through inclusive, sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programs .
Goals and Ambitions
The WaSH Policy includes the following targets to be achieved by 2030 :
For Water Supply
- In rural areas, 70% of the population has access to a safe, convenient, and sustainable water supply.
- In urban areas, 95% of the population has access to a safe, convenient and sustainable water supply.
- 100% of educational institutions and medical centres across the country have access to a safe, convenient and sustainable water supply.
- In rural areas, 70% of the population has access to safe, convenient and sustainable sanitation facilities.
- In urban areas, 85% of the population has access to safe, convenient and sustainable sanitation facilities.
- 100% of educational institutions and medical centres have access to safe, convenient and sustainable sanitation facilities.
- 100% of educational institutions and medical centres have handwashing facilities with running water and soap.
- 100% of the households that have access to an improved water supply practice total sanitation.
- Establish a National WaSH Authority to coordinate the water and sanitation services in the country.
- Increase financing for the WaSH Sector. New World Bank and European Union investments present an opportunity for the WaSH sector to demonstrate how PNG can achieve its WaSH policy targets at a district level.
- Significant strengthening of the human resource capacity of the WaSH sector is needed.
- Public awareness raising, education and communication for changing hygiene behaviour.
 WaterAid (2017). Papua New Guinea Country Strategy 2017-2020 Summary.
 World Population Review (2021). Papua New Guinea Population 2021. [Online]. Available at: https://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/papua-new-guinea-population.
 World Bank (2016). [Online]. Available: https://blogs.worldbank.org/eastasiapacific/papua-new-guinea-improving-water-and-sanitation-land-unexpected.
 ECOLEX (2017). [Online]. Available: https://www.ecolex.org/details/legislation/national-water-supply-and-sanitation-act-2016-no-52-of-2016-lex-faoc177402/#:~:text=Being%20an%20Act%20%2D%20(a),the%20establishment%20of%20Water%20Papua.
 UNICEF (2021). [Online]. Available: https://www.unicef.org/eu/stories/she-our-brother-papua-new-guineas-pioneering-woman-artisan.
 The World Bank (2017). [Online]. Available: https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2017/02/09/major-boost-for-clean-water-and-improved-sanitation-in-png-through-new-world-bank-project.
 Australian Government, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (2017). [Online]. Available: https://www.dfat.gov.au/news/news/Pages/water-for-women#:~:text=The%20Australian%20Government%20will%20deliver,and%20hygiene%20(WASH)%20programs.