After 20 years of voluntary service in the South Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea, the Peace Corps is pulling out.
Once a relatively stable society under the administration of Australia, New Guinea played a crucial role in World War ii as an island bastion for Australian, New Zealand and U.S. troops when General MacArthur stationed his command post at Port Moresby.
Papua New Guinea witnessed some of the most bitter and brutal clashes of jungle warfare between Japanese and Allied troops on the Kokoda track.
Following the war, a thriving South Pacific lifestyle was established as post-war reconstruction developed Port Moresby’s large, sheltered harbor into an important commercial port.
Since independence from Australia was granted in 1975, the nation has suffered increasing socio-economic difficulties as poorly trained, inept local governments have taken over the running of the country.
With a highland populace that is only a couple of generations removed from a tribal headhunting society, Papua New Guinea is rapidly becoming the Congo of the South Pacific. Violent crime has accelerated to the point where Peace Corps headquarters in Washington rated the risk factor to its volunteers as three times higher than other developing countries in which it operated.
Nations which would normally vie for the opportunity to develop Papua New Guinea’s abundant oil, gas, gold, silver, copper and timber reserves will be tempted to channel investment elsewhere. However, this tropical Australian neighbor is now entering the basket-case category of many African nations, and risks dropping even below its present UN ranking of 126th out of 174 countries in human development and employment opportunities.