Port Moresby

Port Moresby is the capital city of PNG and is the main administrative, commercial and education centre of the country. It has a population of a little over 400,000 with an average density of 16 persons per hectare. It developed based on its historical and strategic considerations. The main economic activities in Port Moresby are in the service industry. The unemployment rate in Port Moresby is high with more than 50% of the
unemployed in settlements and urban villages. Most of these people participate in some form of informal sector activities.

60% of the total land area in Port Moresby is alienated or state land while 40% is under customary ownership. The availability of basic urban services like water, energy, sewerage network, and sanitation and refuse collection is varied between the formal areas and the informal and settlement areas. While formal areas are often serviced, some people who live in settlements often resort to illegal means to access basic services. Public transport needs improvement and the existing road network is poorly maintained particularly in the suburban and settlement areas. Health care and education facilities although available are sometimes run-down and poorly resourced.


Port Moresby was named by Captain John Moresby, the leader of a British naval expedition, in 1873. The local people were the Motu and their main village Hanuabada. The first non-Melanesian settlers, Polynesian teachers attached to the London Missionary Society, arrived in 1873. They were joined in 1874 by Rev.W.G. Lawes and his wife who set up the first permanent mission station on the south coast. In 1880 a trade store was established and in 1884 the town became the headquarters of the British Protectorate. In spite of the activities of major trading companies such as Burns Philp the town grew slowly. In 1940 there were less than 400 Europeans and 1,000 Papuans most of whom were allowed within the boundaries of the town only in daylight hours. Property was seriously damaged by bombing raids during an unsuccessful Japanese attempt to capture the town in 1941.

In 1945 Port Moresby became the capital of the newly created Territory of Papua and New Guinea. The Australian government put substantial sums of money into the public sector, private investment increased and the town grew rapidly. The population more than doubled from an estimated 40,000 in 1966 to an estimated 100,000 at Independence in 1975 when Moresby became the capital of the independent state of Papua New Guinea. The city includes the suburb of Waigani which has the national parliament, the headquarters of most government departments and diplomatic missions. Port Moresby is the main manufacturing town, port and airport, and communications center.

Economic Situation

The economy in Port Moresby is dominated by the tertiary sector. This reflects the role of Port Moresby as the main administrative centre and the main point for import of manufactured products. Besides the activities defined in the Public Services Act, wholesale and retail activities together with restaurants and hotels make up the main service activities in Port Moresby.

There is very little large scale manufacturing in Port Moresby. The main industries range from building and construction to brewery, clothing and printing presses. The recent establishment of an oil refinery and a dry-dock should result in some increase in direct and indirect employment through spin-off businesses. The unemployment rate in Port Moresby is considerably higher than in other urban centres of PNG. A high percentage of the unemployed are those with no formal education or education up to primary school level. More than 50% of unemployed persons are found in settlements and urban villages. However, this is not to say that they are not involved in other income generating activities as most of these people participate in informal sector activities.

Informal and Private Sectors

In Port Moresby, the informal sector employs the bulk of the population. Without the informal sector, many people would not be able to earn a living. Informal sector activities range from selling/distributing goods such as betel nuts and cigarettes to handcrafts and shoe shining and repair. The Informal Sector Control and Development Act aims to regulate and promote the growth of the informal sector. However, the implementation of the Act has not been very successful.

The private sector is a valuable development partner in Port Moresby and contributes to a significant share of the GDP. The National Government is striving to create a conducive environment for the private sector to expand by reducing bureaucratic and other socioeconomic obstacles. The NCDC is also working on strengthening its relations with the private sector.

Law and Order

Law and Order problems have had a negative effect on Port Moresby over the years. Peace and order is a concern in all levels of the community. Increase in crime has led to a lot of insecurity among resident of Port Moresby.

There are several reasons for this situation including high youth unemployment rates, the erosion of cultural values and the huge gap between the rich and the poor. As the city expands, so does the crime rates. The settlements are perceived as safe havens for criminals, although criminals come from the formal housing areas too.

Common crimes are pick-pocketing, armed robbery, vehicle theft, carjackings, and aggravated assault. Gang rapes and homicides are also increasing in number. Movement of residents is restricted after dark due to the high crime rates and there are certain “no-go” areas which can only be accessed under heavy security protection.

The RPNGC, is responsible for law-enforcement. While this force has performed well in crisis situations in the past, it is perceived as undisciplined, corrupt and largely ineffective. There are many cases of excessive use of force and police brutality. The poor police performance has been attributed to poor working conditions and poor salaries and compensation for the members of the police force.

Due to the lack of confidence in the police force, private security companies are commonly used to provide security to those who can afford to hire their services. The judicial system is also flawed. The state prosecution services are largely ineffective and unprofessional. Nonappearance in court, loss of files and loss of evidence are common. The performance of the CIS which is responsible for prisoners is also poor and cases of prisoners escaping from the Bomana prison are common.

The existing law and order situation receives unfavourable publicity overseas and this is a deterrent to foreign investors and potential tourists. The law enforcement and judicial system in Port Moresby needs considerable strengthening and improvement.

Urban Infrastructure and Basic Services

There are obvious disparities in the distribution of urban infrastructure and basic services between the formal areas and the settlements. While formal areas are serviced, the settlements, because of their unplanned status, often donot have access to many basic services. Some people who live in settlements access services illegally; the burden of payment is borne by rate-payers in the formal areas. The existing road network is poorly maintained and while access to health care and education is available, the facilities are often run-down and poorly resourced.


Port Moresby is much drier than most parts of Papua New Guinea which enjoy high annual rainfall ensuring a constant supply of water.

Most of the water supply is provided by Eda Ranu Water and Sewerage Company. Residents also obtain water from underground bore holes. Within some informal settlements, water is available from randomly placed communal standpipes with very few having individual connections. However, most of these standpipes have been vandalized and poorly maintained and as a result, water supply to these settlements has been disconnected. This has led to the development of many illegal water connections in these settlements.

Sanitation and Refuse Collection

All formal areas are connected to the sewerage network administered by Eda Ranu Water and Sewerage Company. Informal settlements do not have linkages to the sewerage network and therefore they use alternative outlets such as pit latrines and direct disposal into the sea, bushes, drains or waterways which leads to pollution of the environment.

The collection of refuse within the city is the responsibility of the NCDC. There is a set schedule for refuse collection in the city, however, the actual collection is not reliable and consistent. Although NCDC undertakes to service all parts of the city, a lack of common collection points and safety problems in the informal settlements has disadvantaged these areas. Therefore, the collection of refuse is limited to the formal areas, urban villages and safer settlements. In areas where there are no refuse collection services, residents dispose their refuse haphazardly causing degradation of the environment.

Public Transport

Buses or Public Motor Vehicles (PMV) are the main form of motorized public transport and there is a strong dependence on them. PMV routes generally follow the major road pattern. PMVs are privately owned and are
managed by a national regulatory authority, the Land Transport Management Board, which sets the fares. The buses do not operate after sunset.

Privately owned taxis are an alternative form of transport and are becoming increasingly popular.

PMVs are badly managed and controlled and are a disruption to traffic. PMV drivers are undisciplined, the condition of vehicles is substandard, passenger comfort is ignored, the standards of dressing of the transport crew is poor, and often designated routes are not followed. There are similar problems with taxis in relation to vehicle condition, passenger comfort, conduct of the drivers, and standards of dressing.

There is a clear need for more effective management and control over PMVs and taxis. Port Moresby has a limited level of maritime public transport and local villagers who come to sell their catch at the local markets daily have only two locations to moor their banana boats. With the Napa Napa oil refinery on the other side of the harbour, two ferries travel between the main wharf and the refinery at 10 minute intervals. There are no proper docking facilities for passenger vessels coming from other provinces.

Street Lighting

Provision of street lighting throughout the city varies considerably, from non-existent on some residential streets to well-lit on arterial roads. There is no street lighting in the settlements. Most streetlights are in working order. Some residential streets in the formal housing areas lacking street lights are lit by security lights on individual properties.

Sources of Energy

PNG Power which administers the national grid provides electricity to the city primarily through its hydro complex outside the city boundary supplemented by thermal and diesel sub-stations 24 hours a day. PNG Power has prioritized to further increase hydro resources and eventually replace fossil fuels. PNG Power is investigating two new sources just outside Port Moresby. Fossil fuel, in the form of diesel and petrol, are being consumed at a large scale in the transport sector. In settlements, wood is the widely used source of fuel for cooking and lighting followed by kerosene, Liquefied Petroleum Gas and electricity. Candles are also widely used for lighting. The harvesting of firewood has led to depletion of trees in some areas in Port Moresby.

PNG Power indiscriminately supplies electricity within the city based on a user-pay system. However, there are cases of people with electricity connection in informal settlements on the fringes of residential areas entering into agreements with other settlers to extend connection to them at some fee.


The most common diseases in Port Moresby are malaria, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). HIV/AIDS poses the largest threat. Public and private health-care services are available for the residents of the city and, in addition, there are traditional medicine practitioners. These systems may sometimes overlap. The middle and high-income groups rely on the city’s private hospitals and clinics, whereas the poorer groups rely on the government run hospitals and clinics. Residents can also access health care services from institutional clinics. Based on the Department of Health’s standards there is a shortage of government-run clinics. At times, some clinics have to close due to theft and vandalism. As the city expands further urban clinics will be required in suitable locations and there will also be need for a second public hospital.


There is a high student to teacher ratio in schools in Port Moresby. Classrooms are overcrowded and the limited land area for schools makes it difficult for further extensions. Some schools lack adequate facilities such as libraries, laboratories and playing fields. School fees is partly subsidized by the National Government. However, the school fees is still unaffordable for the poor majority. These factors, in addition to the overcrowding in schools, are the reasons why most school age children in informal settlements do not attend school. Although primary and high schools are spread throughout major population catchment areas of the city, pupils travelling across town to get to school is a common occurrence.

The University of Papua New Guinea and other major tertiary institutions are located in Port Moresby. There are also privately run schools that provide better quality education with better facilities than the public schools. However, they are expensive and only a privileged few can afford to send their children to these private schools.

Road Network

The road network consists of approximately 400 Km of paved roads. These are classified in a hierarchy of arterial, distributor, local access and cul-de-sacs. Roads and drainage systems consume the largest share of NCDC’s budget. Expenditure over recent years has concentrated on new or upgraded arterial roads. This has led to the neglect of distributor and local access roads, resulting in their deterioration. There is little strategic planning for road upgrading and maintenance. At present there is no process in place to undertake assessment of road projects, either in the strategic framework or in cost/benefit analysis. As a result there is no means to prioritize proposals, or justify budget requirements.

Maintenance decisions are responsive and not programmed. Funds are expended on an as-required basis, responding to immediate maintenance needs. Footpaths and pedestrian routes are non-existent or are not clearly marked.


Port Moresby is the main gateway to the rest of the country. The city hosts the main international airport in the country. Air transport is the main mode of interprovincial travel in PNG. Air Niugini, the national flag carrier alone, operates 47 international flights to Narita, Singapore, Brisbane, Cairns, and Honiara, and 256 domestic flights weekly. Other third level airlines and cargo airlines also operate from Port Moresby to other destinations within the country.


Port Moresby has the second largest seaport in Papua New Guinea. It has historic and economic significance. Port Moresby evolved around the activity of the wharf, which was the main port of call between Australia and the then Territory of Papua and New Guinea. Currently the main freight leaving the port as export consists mainly of minerals and agricultural produce. Imports consist of a wide range of consumer goods and capital goods for large projects. They come mainly from Australia, Singapore, Japan, USA, and New Zealand.

Compared to other South Pacific island ports, excluding Australia and New Zealand, Port Moresby is a large port. Because of PNG’s geography, the coastal trade is a major link between regional centres in the country.

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