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Papua New Guinea

Water management, policies and legislation related to water use in agriculture


The major government institutions involved in the water resources and irrigation sector are:

  • Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC), which is responsible for the management and protection of the country’s water resources, pollution control, water-related laws and regulations, and their enforcement. Its Water Resources Management Branch is responsible for the management, conservation and control of the natural water resources. The Branch’s policy states that the role of the Bureau is: “To monitor, manage and control the country’s water resources in an effective and efficient manner for the benefit of the community, as stipulated in the Water Resources Act 1982”. The Hydrological Services Branch maintains a network of hydrological stations around the country as well as a national hydrological data bank and carries out hydrological data collection analysis and archiving for the government and clients (IPA, 2006).
  • Geological Survey of the Department of Mineral Resources (GSPNG), which is responsible for providing advice on groundwater exploration, assessment, management and protection of resources.
  • Water Board, which is a statutory organization responsible for water supply and sewerage in 11 towns throughout the country, though not the capital city. The development and management of rural water supply and sanitation has been delegated to the Department of Health since 1987.

Water management

Papua New Guinea is rich in natural resources including water. However, owing to a lack of both human resources and political interest, and to underlying financial constraints, it has not been able to achieve sustainable development in the water sector. The water sector is fragmented and poorly coordinated.

The fourth directive principle of the country’s national constitution is to conserve its natural resources (including water), use them for the collective benefit and ensure that they are replenished for the benefit of future generations.

Papua New Guinea is a rural country, where up to 90 percent of the population is reported to depend on subsistence or semi-subsistence agriculture. There is hardly any significant irrigation development programme or proper irrigation policy. This experience has led the Government to seriously consider irrigation development as announced by the Minister for Agriculture and Livestock in a 1997 World Food Day message. According to this message:

  • there is a need to develop small-scale village water supply, irrigation and water management;
  • the Government and policy-makers need to examine irrigation development as a component of the strategy for increased food production; and
  • it is important to establish an irrigation development unit within the Department of Agriculture and Livestock and to develop a national irrigation policy.

Irrigation was introduced for the first time in a pilot area, under FAO’s Special Programme for Food Security, where subsistence farming is the norm.

The Government is aware that the natural water resources are coming under increasing pressure from the large number of resource development projects that are being implemented throughout the country in accordance with the government’s overall development policies. There is an increasingly urgent need to ensure that the protection and conservation of this resource is managed in an effective, efficient and sustainable manner (IPA, 2006).

The Water Resources Act (1982) is applied through the issuance of Water Use and Water Investigation Permits and through the declaration of Water Control Districts. Compliance conditions attached to the permits are designed to ensure that environmental quality is adequately protected in order to sustain the value of the resource. The establishment of Water Control Districts is a planning instrument, which is used to provide wider protection of environmental values in key or critical areas.

The Act is implemented by a Water Resources Board, which is composed of representatives from the Division and other Government departments and agencies including Health, Agriculture, Fisheries, Forests, Mining and Petroleum and the various Water Boards that are responsible for water supply and sewerage reticulation. The Water Resources Management Branch is required to provide the Water Resources Board with sound and accurate resource management advice on all water-related matters, and to implement and enforce the decisions and recommendations of the Board under the Act. A key component in the formulation of sound resource management is the availability of accurate information upon which to base reliable assessments. The integrity and efficacy of the Bureau’s planning strategies and management programmes, which form the basis of the advice given to the Board, depend primarily on the quality of these assessments (IPA, 2006).

The Branch is responsible for carrying out the administrative and managerial functions of the Water Resources Act 1982. This includes water resource planning allocation, water management programmes, and impact assessment and mitigation strategies. Its functions under the Act include the processing of all Water Use Permits, the inspection and enforcement functions provided for in the Act and the provision of advice and support to the Minister, other government departments and other organizations on water-related issues (IPA, 2006).

Current budget allocations to the water and sanitation sector are relatively small, though the political climate for development in the water and sanitation sector is improving. The Government’s 2001-2010 National Health Plan aims to prioritize these essential services with water quality monitoring and promotion of safe waste disposal alongside ensuring that water supplies are sustainable year-round even during droughts.


The Asian Development Bank (ADB) had made a loan for the water supply and sewerage development project in the urban cities in 1999 and 2000. In 2010, the new Port Moresby Sewerage System Upgrading Project was financed loans from the Japanese Official Development Assistance (Japanese ODA loans, 2010).

Policies and legislation

The Water Resources Act (1982) is the statutory instrument under which the allocation and management of water resources proceed (IPA, 2006).


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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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