Putting Data into Practice: Developing a 5-Year Plan for Wewak District, Papua New Guinea

5 min read
Women carrying water: Victoria Numbasa, 19, (yellow top), Nancy Haulie, 29, Elsie Sapmaworo, 27, and Vero Numbasa, 65, with Simbrangu village, East Sepik province, Papua New Guinea, 2013
Image: WaterAid/ Tom Greenwood

In Papua New Guinea, over 63% of the population lacks access to a basic water supply, and a staggering 81% of the population lacks access to a basic hygienic toilet. These startling statistics are the worst for the Pacific region and among the lowest in the world.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) is now one of the top priorities for the Government of Papua New Guinea. The country only developed its first WASH Policy in 2015, recognising that low access to water and sanitation and poor hygiene practices result in increased incidences of water-borne diseases, especially diarrhoea, typhoid and cholera. These in turn lead to higher morbidity and death, poorer educational attainment, and economic impacts at household and national level. The WASH Policy aims to significantly accelerate access to water and sanitation services and to promote long-term hygiene behaviour change.

An important mechanism for the roll-out of the WASH Policy is the development of 5-year WASH plans at District level (Papua New Guinea has 89 districts). These plans aim to guide investment into WASH and achieve targets set by the National WASH policy.

Finance is a significant barrier. With such low access to WASH services, and over 87% of the population residing in rural and hard to reach areas, the financing requirements for the WASH sector are very large. A Service Delivery Assessment study (Water Supply and Sanitation in Papua New Guinea: Turning Finance into Services for the Future, Water and Sanitation Program) conducted in July 2013 estimated that US$2 billion of investments is required to reach the Government’s 2030 WASH Policy targets. Additionally, about US$20 million per year is needed for operation and maintenance (O&M) of existing and future infrastructure.

When the problems are so significant and the investment needs so vast, how does the government decide on the most important place to work and prioritise finance for the largest impact?

Raphael Kenia
Raphael Kenia, Manager of Boiken Local Level Government uses baseline data to define WASH priorities for the 5-year district WASH plan

This is where data can help. Reliable local level data on WASH services in PNG is extremely limited, creating a barrier for decision-makers. This lack of data contributes to the politicisation of planning and drives low accountability for the delivery of services.

As part of a five-year Water for Women funded program (supported by Australian Aid), WaterAid is supporting the roll-out of the WASH Policy at District level. Recently, WaterAid helped 29 government officials in Wewak district conduct a district-wide baseline survey on water, sanitation and hygiene services within the communities, schools, health care facilities and market places for which they are responsible. Over a 10-week period from October 2018 to December 2018, government staff collected data from 208 rural villages, all 16 wards in the urban area, 107 schools, 27 health care facilities, 3 markets places, and the main prison and police cells.

Data was collected in difficult and logistically challenging environments. Government teams visited remote rural areas only accessible by four-wheel-drive vehicles, boat or foot. Poor weather and tribal conflict were a constant threat to survey progress. However, the data collection continued, as it was seen as critical to improving the situation for the citizens of Wewak.

What the baseline data tells us

  • Women’s representation in decision-making processes is very low. Only 10% of people nominated as decision makers were women.
  • Only 37% of rural communities in Wewak district have access to an improved (safe) water supply. Many communities use unsafe traditional water sources.
  • Only 34% of households in the district have their own toilet, with 41% of households defecating in the open. Less than 1% of households in rural areas have a handwashing facility near their toilet, compounding the risk of disease transmission.

In schools and health facilities, the situation is dire, holding back educational attainment and presenting a public health risk. Sanitation and hygiene is a significant problem in rural schools. 80% of rural schools have unimproved bush toilets that are unhygienic and are not single-sex.

Access to safe, private and hygienic toilets is critical for adolescent girls to manage menstruation. When there are no suitable toilets, girls’ attendance can be reduced, resulting in them missing critical schooling and participation in decision-making.

Not one of the 91 rural schools visited during the baseline has handwashing facilities with both soap and water available. This situation presents a high risk of disease transmission.

In health care facilities, sanitation and hygiene data paint a bleak picture. None of the 27 health care facilities meet the measures for basic sanitation and only 2 health care facilities out of 27 have handwashing facilities with soap and water or alcohol hand rub present at the points of patient care. This situation is extremely high risk for patient infection.

There are a number of health care facilities without water. Patients or their families are required to bring their own water for their care.

Data for planning processes

The Wewak District baseline data provides a complete picture of the district’s situation for the first time. The availability of quality and timely data has given the government, women’s groups and disabled person’s organisations the evidence to shape their priorities in the 5-year WASH plan. The WASH plan will guide WASH investment in the district’s priority areas, leverage finance and equip service providers to make more informed decisions on where and how to prioritise work.

In the long-term, strengthening data-driven governance and planning processes will improve the lives of the roughly 107,000 people living in rural and urban areas of Wewak District, fulfilling the goals of the PNG WASH Policy.

This project is supported by the Australian Government through the PNGAusPartnership.


Water for Women project
Image: Water for Women