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Papua New Guinea

Geography, climate and population


Papua New Guinea lies to the north of Australia just south of the equator. Apart from the mainland, it consists of a collection of islands, atolls and coral reefs scattered around the coastline. The total area of the country is 462 840 km2 (Table 1). For administrative purposes, the country is divided into fourteen provinces on the mainland: Central, Chimbu, Eastern Highlands, East Sepik, Enga, Gulf, Madang, Milne Bay, Morobe, Northern, West Sepik (also called Sandaun), Southern Highlands, Western, and Western Highlands; four provinces in the Bismarck Archipelago: East New Britain, Manus, New Ireland, and West New Britain; one autonomous region: North Solomons (also called Bougainville); and one district: National Capital (Port Moresby).

The principal topographical features of the mainland, the Bismarck Archipelago and the North Solomon Islands are the highly dissected mountain ranges, which reach 4 509 m on the mainland. In the western half of the mainland are the extensive lowland plains and swamps of the Sepik-Ramu and Fly rivers, lying respectively north and south of the main mountain ranges.

In 1997, the cultivable area was about 12 500 000 ha, or about 27 percent of the total area. In 2009, the total cultivated area was an estimated 960 000 ha of which 260 000 ha or 27 percent for annual crops and 700 000 ha or 73 percent of permanent crops. In 1997 some 787 000 ha were reported to be cultivated, mainly with starch food crops such as taro, sweet potato, yam, cassava, banana and sago. Export crops planted in extensive plantations and by subsistence farmers include coffee, cocoa, oil palm, coconut and minor export crops such as tea, cardamon, vanilla and rubber.


The climate is humid and rainy. Temperatures are not extreme for tropical climates and most areas, apart from the high altitudes, have a daily mean temperature of 27 ║C with little variation. Humidity in the lowland areas varies around 80 percent. Varied topography and location determine localized climates. There are two principal wind directions, which strongly influence the rainfall patterns: southeast from May to October and northwest from December to March.

April and November are transition months. However, high mountain barriers across the path of these winds induce heavy orographic convective rainfall on the northern and southern slopes in the highlands themselves. Thermal convective rainfall is characteristic of the Fly and Sepik lowlands.

Average rainfall varies from one location to another. On the mainland, the mean annual rainfall ranges from less than 2 000 mm along the coast to more than 8 000 mm in some mountain areas. The island groups to the north and northeast receive an average annual rainfall between 3 000 and 7 000 mm. Areas lying southwest of the Fly River, west of Lae in the Markham valley, receive less than 2 000 mm/year. The Port Moresby coastal area receives least rain with less than 1 000 mm/year.


In 2008, total population is 6.58 million, of which around 86 percent is rural (Table 1). Population density is 14 inhabitants/km2. Population densities are higher in pockets such as Chimbu, Western Highlands and Eastern Highlands province. The annual population growth rate was 2.5 during the period 1999-2009.

In 2008, access to improved drinking water sources reached 40 percent (87 and 33 percent for the urban and rural population respectively). Sanitation coverage accounted for 45 percent (71 and 41 percent for the urban and rural population respectively).


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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