• Gabriella Richardson

Water Quality and Sanitation in Papua New Guinea

Image source: UNICEF 2018

Papua New Guinea’s population has some of the poorest access to clean water in the world. The nation ranks at the bottom of all Pacific countries for water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) related statistics, which pertain to clean water, water access, toilets, soap, other sanitation methods and good hygiene.

Statistics regarding water access and water use in Papua New Guinea:

  • 55% of people in the Pacific region have access to clean drinking water (Wilson, 2020).

  • Over 60% of the population uses unimproved water supplies (UNICEF, 2018).

  • An estimated 91% of the population living in urban areas in Papua New Guinea have access to treated water, although only 60% of this population gets treated water piped to their household directly (Pacific Community – Water, Sanitation Program, 2007).

  • An estimated 20% of the rural population in Papua New Guinea has access to clean drinking water from an improved water supply such as protected wells and public standpipes (Pacific Community – Water, Sanitation Program, 2007).

  • 51% of schools in Papua New Guinea have access to water (UNICEF, 2018).

Image source: UNICEF 2018

Statistics regarding sanitation in Papua New Guinea:

  • According to the government’s WASH policy 2013-2030, 57% of urban dwellers and 13% of the rural population have access to sanitation (UNICEF, 2018).

  • Less than 20% of the population uses improved sanitation methods (UNICEF, 2018).

  • In 2009, cholera re-emerged in Papua New Guinea after 50 years (Horwood and Greenhill, 2012).

  • Diarrhea is the fifth most common reason individuals visit a health clinic and is the cause of 15% of deaths in children under the age of 5 years old (Horwood and Greenhill, 2012).

  • Approximately 10% of Papua New Guinea’s schools encourage hand washing with soap. (UNICEF, 2018).

  • Only 8% of these schools practice Menstrual Hygiene Management (UNICEF, 2018).

Image Source: The World Bank

Poor access to clean water and basic sanitation increases risk of contracting viruses, parasites, skin infections and other enteric diseases such as typhoid fever (Horwood and Greenhill, 2012). Lack of sanitation and hygiene especially effects women and young girls, as women must manage their menstrual cycle and often care for children under challenging circumstances (WaterAid, 2020). Adolescent girls are also more likely to be absent from school due to lack of soap and private changing areas (UNICEF, 2018).

Papua New Guinea’s already poor clean water and basic sanitation access are being threatened by environmental destruction of natural water sources due to activities such as mining. Perhaps the most prominent example would be the red waters visibly polluted with sentiment in the Porgera region (Columbia Law School, 2019). Overall, lack of clean water and means of basic sanitation greatly impedes on the well-being and health of the population, especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Access to clean water and sanitation should be a basic human right, and several programs have been launched by MDF over the years in order to improve these conditions. These include MDF’s rural community development initiatives and a water supply project in 2018. These programs may be found on our website.


Horwood, Paul, and Andrew Greenhill. “Cholera in Papua New Guinea and the Importance of Safe Water Sources and Sanitation,” n.d., 3.

The Borgen Project. “Nine Facts About Water Quality in Papua New Guinea,” September 17, 2017. https://borgenproject.org/water-quality-in-papua-new-guinea/.

Wilson, Catherine. “Pacific’s Fight against Covid-19 Hamstrung by Lack of Clean Water.” The Guardian, August 28, 2020, sec. World news. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/29/pacifics-fight-against-covid-19-hamstrung-by-lack-of-clean-water

“Papua New Guinea | WaterAid Australia.” Accessed September 29, 2020. https://www.wateraid.org/au/where-we-work/papua-new-guinea.

“Red Water: Mining and the Right to Water in Porgera, Papua New Guinea - Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity (AC4).” Accessed September 29, 2020. http://wordpress.ei.columbia.edu/ac4/research-themes/environment-peace-and-sustainability/red-water-mining-and-the-right-to-water-in-porgera-papua-new-guinea/.

“SPC Water, Sanitation and Hygiene : Papua New Guinea.” Accessed September 29, 2020. https://www.pacificwater.org/pages.cfm/country-information/papua-new-guinea.html.

UNICEF. “Water, Sanitation and Hygiene,” 2018. https://www.unicef.org/png/what-we-do/water-sanitation-and-hygiene.


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