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The Island of Kiriwina

Background & Statement of development needs

Development context

The island of Kiriwina is the largest in a group of islands off the east coast of Papua New Guinea referred to as the Trobriand Islands.  The islands are flat coral atolls with a hot and humid climate year round.  The main government settlement is the town of Losuia, which includes a hospital, a school, a government office, and a small wharf where all supplies to the island arrive by boat.  Losuia has electricity provided by a diesel powered generator, with most of the houses in the township connected.  The island has a WW2 airstrip which allows commercial flights from the mainland several times a week.  There is a mobile phone service available on the island, making direct communication with the mainland relatively good.

Overall, the population of Kiriwina is around 25,000.  Most of the inhabitants live in traditional settlements of between 200 to 500 people, with no running water, electricity or sanitary facilities.  Toilets are basic communal pit toilets located in the bush in designated areas surrounding the village.  Housing is built of bush materials, sometimes incorporating tin roofs, which are highly sought after because of their relative durability and ability to harvest rainwater.  However rainwater tanks are few and far between and safe potable water is always an issue.  Personal hygiene is difficult.

Kiriwinans are mostly subsistence gardeners and rely on produce grown from their own gardens to survive, yams and taro being the main food source.  Sweet potato, bananas, leafy greens and beans are also grown, and occasionally chicken or fish provide protein.  However population pressure and poor growing conditions as a result of droughts often result in severe food shortages. Fishing provides some coastal men with a cash income, and weekend markets take place for sale and exchange of food, betel nuts and other essentials.  There are several trade stores on the island providing western merchandise and staple items such as kerosene, rice, tobacco, cloth as well as other western items.  Cash is provided mainly from family members who have left the island and work elsewhere in the country.

Traditional belief of spirits, sorcery and the practice of magic still exist, sometimes impacting on the health of pregnant women, young mothers and infants.  Pregnant women mostly give birth in the village instead of going to the hospital.  In the absence of western medicine, and sometimes by choice, traditional use of plants and herbs as medicine still takes place.  The small hospital at Losuia is supplemented by poorly stocked medical posts within walking distance of most villages, but the lack of adequate medical care is an ongoing problem.  Infant mortality in particular is high.

Development needs

The particular development needs Caring for Kiriwina focusses on are the health of pregnant women, women in childbirth, newborn infants and children.

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