BY PHILIP FITZPATRICK
OVER THE LAST WEEK or so I’ve been crunching numbers for a preliminary social mapping study along the coast east of Moresby, roughly from Porebada to Saua.
Such studies are mandatory for companies looking for oil and gas in Papua New Guinea. No one has seriously looked for hydrocarbons down that way before, so this study is covering new ground. And some of the statistics are alarming.
According to a census of schools conducted by the Education Department in 2008, the strip of coast has got about 360 schools, the majority of which are elementary. The student population of all schools combined is around 41,345, with about 1,400 teachers.
The number of students as a proportion of overall population seems to me to be very high. However there are no up-to-date general census figures to make an accurate comparison. The last census was in 2000 and the next one should have been last year, but that seems to have gone by the board.
In 2000 there was a notable increase in population in places like the Rigo District caused by high birth rates and migration. In a couple of places, like Kwikila, the rate was running close to 4%, about twice the normal rate.
There are a lot of kids out there, especially little tackers. There are only eight high schools in the area, with around 3,200 students. According to my dodgy maths that is about 8% of the student population. Is that a good rate of kids going on to secondary education? To my untrained mind it doesn’t look too flash.
Whether these statistics are a snapshot that can be extrapolated to other areas is questionable. In other studies I’ve done, the rates are even worse.
As far as I know, social mapping studies are not read by anyone in government. For many exploration companies they are just another box that has to be ticked as part of their Petroleum Prospecting Licence. A lot of them just get an old kiap to knock up a report as quickly as possible. Needless to say, professional rigour is often lacking.
The mob I work for take a slightly different tack and regard the studies as a useful tool in establishing workable relationships with the local people. If the company officials read the studies they can make informed and responsible judgements about how they pillage the country.
The government doesn’t acknowledge this aspect as a function of the studies. For them it is all about who gets the royalties. If any of them read the studies, it is only to flick to the appendix listing landowner groups.
Some of the studies I’ve done in the Western and Gulf Provinces show an alarming rate of population increase, severe impacts from climate change and the real danger of subsistence food shortages in the near future.
Despite Michael Somare believing that people in PNG will always be able to feed themselves from their gardens, there is no way of getting away from the fact that fires in the late nineties wiped out huge areas of sago swamp and that new palms will not be ready for harvest until at least 2025. There are also strange fish in the rivers and birds that no one has ever seen before.
But as well as going hungry, it seems the kids are going to miss out on a decent education.
One of the most sobering statistics showing up in my number crunching is class size. In the study area, a teacher to student ratio of 1:80 is not uncommon. One poor bugger in the Abau District was looking after 107 elementary school students by himself in 2008.
Wonder how an Aussie teacher would cope with that lot.
Phil Fitzpatrick is principal of South Pacific Social Solutions Pty Ltd