Looking Into Development Issues in Post-Conflict Bougainville
Autonomous Region of Bougainville, PNG, December 2012: My team was visiting villages to talk to communities about development issues related to women and children in post-conflict Bougainville. Among the many issues villagers raised, the lack of potable/domestic water sources came out as the most prevalent. Collecting rainwater is the only option to many communities but it is very limited and highly dependent on the season. And so, in one of the villages we saw, this muddy pond — a catchment for run-off water — is the only place where residents can bathe. Needless to say, though they seem unaware or oblivious to the threats, these boys and girls are prone to a host of issues related to their health, hygiene and security.
From the 70s until the recent years; Bougainville has been besieged by a long conflict stemming from many complex issues that held hostage the general population and left a fragmented social structure and poor system of governance and delivery of basic services.
Compounding the security issues is the issue of accessibility. Many villages are so isolated that they can be reached only on foot. At one point we attempted to visit a far-flung village on this Land Cruiser, using a jungle trail that has not seen a car for many years.
We consulted villages along the way…
.. crossed streams and rivers…
… and found roads where there was almost none.
The Bougainville highlands are productive. Coconut, cacao, rice and other crops are growing everywhere.
Some villagers make a living by selling their produce along the roads.
Mangoes and areca nuts (“buai”) are some of the things that these ladies sell.
Baskets of root crops (sweet potato), line the front of roadside stalls. From what we saw; it is apparent that the Bougainville Islands are fertile, productive and can be self-sufficient and it is no wonder how Bougainvilleans survived a 7-year blockade imposed by the PNG government during the conflict.
At the far and high portion of the trail we found (or re-made); a fallen tree blocked our way. Having no tools to deal with the situation; we decided to turn back and abandon the many hours we have already invested into the journey. I just hope that this is not going to be the case in Bougainville’s long and on-going journey towards a lasting peace.