Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea (PNG) occupies the eastern half of New Guinea (the western half is Irian Jaya, Indonesia), the islands of New Britain, New Ireland and Bougainville and about 600 associated islands. It is located in the Pacific region, just north of Australia. The terrain is rugged with high mountain ranges, steep valleys and extensive marshes in the coastal area. PNG is tectonically and volcanically active, with a number of large active volcanoes. Only 27% of the country’s 463,000 km2 is occupied by people. Migration to major towns for employment or small business opportunities is common in PNG, although most people are semi-subsistence farmers who produce food and cash crops from their own land. Papua New Guineans in general are very friendly people, generous and hospitable, reflecting their diverse cultural traditions.
The country has run into severe economical problems in the last decade, with the decline of roads, shipping and airlines bringing about a reduction of service delivery. The national currency, the Kina, devaluated more than 50 % (now trading at US $ 0.2300), wages were frozen, prices went up. PNG receives substantial overseas development assistance from AusAid (Australian government), Asian Development Bank, IMF and World Bank. These economical problems put a lot of pressure on key areas such as health, education and infrastructure. PNG has a bad reputation regarding personal safety. So-called "raskols", in general jobless educated youths, create a problem in the major cities, as well as in some parts of the Highlands. In general, traveling and working in PNG is safe, taking the usual precautions as in every country.
Sandaun is one of the nineteen provinces in PNG, situated in the north-west corner
of the country on the border with Indonesia, with an area of 36,000 km2.
The rural people of Sandaun are the poorest in PNG During independence talks in 1975, it was agreed that all provinces that make up PNG be allowed to keep a substantial part of their revenues. The remainder was to be transferred to the central government, which then evenly distributes it between provinces. This scheme has worked out very satisfactory for those provinces with many resources such as industries, mining, cash crops, etc. Sandaun Province however, has none of these and has consequently remained more impoverished than other parts of Papua New Guinea.
According to the 1982 West Sepik Integrated Development study, which rated the province against seven indicators; health status, health services, education status, departmental staffing, land transport, small holder cash income and a composite index. The West Sepik Province, now called the Sandaun Province, consistently rated in the bottom five out of nineteen provinces in Papua new Guinea. On the composite index, it rates as least developed. This calculation includes the relatively affluent provincial capital of Vanimo.
Aitape is a fairly remote and quiet town on the north coast in Sandaun (formerly West Sepik) Province, with approximately 8000 inhabitants. Aitape is the principal town and port of the district, one of the four districts of Sandaun Province. The district is 12.000 square meters and has a population of 82.000 people in total.
Aitape is small, but has all basic facilities, including 240 V power (in general 24 hours), telephone, a bank, a post-office, a courthouse and a police station, a supermarket and many tradestores, a petrol station, two airstrips, two secondary schools, a mission office and a (rural) hospital. Aitape has a reasonable road connection with Wewak, 180 km to the east.
On July 17, 1998 Aitape made world news when the region was hit by two major earthqueakes, followed by a series of tidal waves. Several villages 20 km west of Aitape were destroyed, leaving 2200 people dead and thousands wounded and homeless. Although the acute phase of medical care and emergency relief is over, the atmosphere in Aitape is still determined by the tidal wave disaster. The current rehabilitation phase however, also brought and will bring new impulses for the whole region.