Papua New Guinea profile - Overview
- 25 February 2015
- From the section Asia
Papua New Guinea occupies the eastern part of the world's second largest island and is prey to volcanic activity, earthquakes and tidal waves. Linguistically, it is the world's most diverse country, with more than 700 native tongues.
Some 80% of Papua New Guinea's people live in rural areas with few or no facilities of modern life.
Many tribes in the isolated mountainous interior have little contact with one another, let alone with the outside world, and live within a non-monetarised economy dependent on subsistence agriculture.
A very small proportion of the land can sustain cash crops, including coffee and cocoa. Abundant rainforests provide the raw material for a logging industry, which is dominated by Malaysian-owned companies.
Conservation groups have criticised the social and environmental impact of the activity.
Mineral deposits - including gold, copper and nickel - are extensive, but the difficult terrain and poor infrastructure make exploitation slow. There are significant reserves of oil and natural gas and the country has pinned its hopes on becoming a significant energy exporter.
The separatist struggle in the neighbouring Indonesian province of Papua, formerly known as Irian Jaya, prompted the flight of thousands of Papuans into Papua New Guinea from the mid-1980s onwards. Many of them remain in border-area jungle camps.
Although there is strong public concern in Papua New Guinea over the treatment of indigenous people in the western part of the island, the Papua New Guinean government is keen not to let the issue undermine relations with Indonesia, and has said it will not tolerate the use of its territory for separatist attacks on the Indonesian army.
Papua New Guinea had to deal with separatist forces of its own on the island of Bougainville in the 1990s. Up to 20,000 people were killed in the nine-year conflict which ended in 1997.
A peace deal signed in 2001 provided the framework for the election in 2005 of an autonomous government for Bougainville.
Papua New Guinea has strong ties with its southern neighbour, Australia, which administered the territory until independence in 1975. Canberra's substantial aid programme aims to relieve poverty and to boost development.
Australia has also despatched police officers and civil servants to support their local equivalents.
Concerns have been raised over high levels of crime and violence in the country, especially gender-based violence. The incidence of HIV/Aids is extremely high, and diseases such as cholera and malaria are endemic.
There has also been criticism of Papua New Guinea's human rights record. Refugees in the country have been the targets of xenophobic attacks, and police brutality is commonplace.
Though the death penalty has not been used since 1954, in May 2013 legislation extending it to cover a wider range of crimes was passed.
Corruption is rife, with Transparency International rating the country one of the most corrupt in the world in 2012.
Analysts see political corruption as being a product of the patronage system of governance, and the fact that many politicians are also businessmen has exacerbated the problem.