Papua New Guinea (PNG), officially the Independent State of Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and numerous offshore islands (the western portion of the island is occupied by the Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Irian). It is located in Melanesia, in the south-western Pacific Ocean. The capital is Port Moresby. It is one of the most diverse countries on Earth, with over 850 indigenous languages and at least as many traditional societies, in a population of just over seven million. It is also one of the most rural, with only 18 per cent of its people living in urban centres. The country is also one of the world's least explored, culturally and geographically, and many undiscovered species of plants and animals are thought to exist in the interior of Papua New Guinea.
The majority of the population live in traditional societies and practise subsistence-farming agriculture. These societies have some explicit acknowledgement within the nation's constitutional framework. The PNG Constitution expresses the wish for traditional villages and communities to remain as viable units of Papua New Guinean society, and for active steps to be taken in their preservation.
The population of Papua New Guinea is one of the most heterogeneous in the world. Papua New Guinea has several thousand separate communities, most with only a few hundred people. The largest portion of the population lives in fertile highlands valleys that were unknown to the outside world until the 1930s. Divided by language, customs, and tradition, until recently some of these were unaware of the existence of neighbouring groups only a few kilometres away. Some have engaged in low-scale tribal conflict with their neighbours for millennia.
Approximately 96% of the population is Christian. The churches with the largest number of members are the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the United Church, the Seventh Day Adventist church, and the Anglican Church. The major churches are all under indigenous leadership, although a large number of foreign missionaries continue to work in the remote areas of the country.
Most Papua New Guineans continue to adhere strongly to a traditional social structure, which has its roots in village life.
The country's geography is diverse and, in places, extremely rugged. A spine of mountains runs the length of the island of New Guinea, forming a populous highlands region. Dense rainforest can be found in the lowlands and coastal areas. This terrain has made it difficult for the country to develop transportation infrastructure. In some areas, planes are the only mode of transport.
Papua New Guinea is rich in natural resources, including minerals, oil, gas, timber, and fish, and produces a variety of commercial agricultural products. The economy generally can be separated into an informal sector centred on subsistence agriculture and a formal sector centred on resources. Approximately 75% of the country's population relies primarily on the subsistence economy.
Papua New Guinea is richly endowed with gold, copper, oil, natural gas, and other minerals. The minerals, timber, and fish sectors are dominated by foreign investors. In 2006 minerals and oil export receipts accounted for 82% of GDP and continue to account for over 60% of GDP. Government revenues and foreign exchange earnings depend heavily on mineral and oil exports.
Agriculture currently accounts for 32% of GDP and supports more than 75% of the population. Cash crops ranked by value are coffee, oil, cocoa, copra, tea, rubber, and sugar. Papua New Guinea has an active tuna industry, but much of the catch is made by boats of other nations fishing in Papua New Guinea waters under license.
After being colonised by the three external powers since 1884, Papua New Guinea gained its independence from Australia on 16 September 1975.
• Land area: 462,840 sq. km..
• Cities: Capital--Port Moresby (307, 643). Other cities--Lae (190,178), Mt. Hagen (39,003).
• Major language: English, Tok Pisin, Hiri Motu
• Life expectancy: 61 years (men), 66 years (women) (UN)
• Monetary unit: 1 kina = 100 toea
• Main exports: Gold, petroleum, copper, coffee, palm oil, logs
• GNI per capita: US $1,300 (World Bank, 2010) The UN Human Development Index ranks PNG 153 in the world. Bangladesh is ranked 146, and New Zealand is ranked 5.