SPOKANE, Washington — Papua New Guinea made global news in 2016 as the country with the greatest percentage of the population without access to clean water. At the time, about 60% of Papua New Guinea, 4.5 million, were without safe water. These statistics came with the reassurance that the issue lay not with the sheer availability of clean water, but instead, with access to and affordability of the resource. This gives hope to international efforts like those of UNICEF, which work to provide water assistance in Papua New Guinea.
In a March 2021 press release, UNICEF identified Papua New Guinea’s 8.5 million people as some of the most at-risk in the world, ranking within the top 37 countries with the most serious water vulnerabilities. In 2020, Papua New Guinea submitted its Voluntary National Review to the United Nations, reiterating its goals to achieve affordable access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene by the year 2030. The nation reported that since the creation of the Papua New Guinea Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) Policy 2015-2030, a lack of resources and funding has kept these 2030 targets out of reach. The nation looks to international aid to strengthen water assistance in Papua New Guinea.
Effects on Women and Girls
Most schools in Papua New Guinea rely on rainwater collection, therefore, many schools close in the wake of extreme droughts. With low access to water, there is even less access to sanitation. Girls are especially affected without the necessary hygiene products to attend schools during menstruation. In addition, without water and sanitation facilities at schools, girls struggle to maintain proper menstrual hygiene.
In most families, these same young women shoulder “the burden of water collection.” Women and girls walk daily with heavy containers to collect water, a process that can take hours. They travel long distances either in the heat or the dark, risking their health and safety. All this time, energy and effort could go toward more productive activities that help girls and women rise out of poverty, such as education endeavors and paid employment.
This carries over into adulthood, where pregnant women may need to bring their own water for delivering children in unpiped health centers. The paired shortage of medical equipment and clean, running water, leaves the burden of water collection and use of suitable toilets to patients.
The U.N. recognizes Papua New Guinea’s struggle with the capacity to plan, finance and deliver on clean water access for its citizens, calling attention to the 2019 Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) report in which the percentage of the population with access to safe drinking water was estimated at 41%.
Important partnerships between Papua New Guinea and international organizations hope to provide a framework for national programs moving forward. One program, The EU-UNICEF WASH Project, seeks to assist 160,000 of Papua New Guinea’s citizens with WASH services.
UNICEF evaluated the progress of Papua New Guinea’s WaSH Policy and noted an insufficient improvement in water access and safety, especially in schools and health centers where women and girls are particularly vulnerable. Stepping in to assist the government with funding and implementation, the EU-UNICEF WASH Project estimates that it will reach 200 schools and 36 health centers in four years’ time.
UNICEF reserves specific, targeted action for supporting school-age girls in Papua New Guinea. UNICEF is assisting local efforts in schools by building facilities and providing education on menstrual hygiene.
Five years after headlining international news, an array of organizations, including UNICEF, are supporting Papua New Guinea’s efforts to provide safer, more accessible water and sanitation to its people. UNICEF has brought attention to the essential needs of women and young girls and is working to meet the needs of all citizens by providing water assistance in Papua New Guinea.
– Angela Basinger