USAID chief Power highlights electricity access, health in Papua New Guinea visit

Harlyne Joku
Port Moresby
USAID chief Power highlights electricity access, health in Papua New Guinea visit Papua New Guinea's Prime Minister James Marape (R) shakes hands with USAID Administrator Samantha Power after their meeting in Port Moresby on Aug. 13, 2023.
Andrew Kutan/AFP

The U.S. international aid agency has announced several million dollars of humanitarian assistance for Papua New Guinea and a solar power project as the United States tries to underline a renewed commitment to Pacific island nations. 

Samantha Power, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, is visiting Papua New Guinea and Fiji this week for the official opening of an enlarged mission in the region where the United States is vying for influence with China. 

In Port Moresby on Sunday, where USAID elevated its presence to a country representative office that oversees programs in three nations, Power said the change was a “reflection of this deepened commitment to Papua New Guinea and to the broader region.” 

“We will have more resources including funding and staff to invest here in Papua New Guinea as well as in Solomon Islands and Vanuatu,” she said at a press conference with Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister James Marape.

Power said she was the first USAID administrator to visit Papua New Guinea, the most populous Pacific island country with more than nine million people.

In Fiji, Power is expected to highlight what the aid agency says is a revamped regional mission that will work with nine Pacific island countries. 

The U.S. government outlined plans to boost its USAID presence during a summit with Pacific island leaders in September last year that was a response to China’s inroads in the region. 

China, over several decades, has become a substantial source of trade, infrastructure and aid for developing Pacific island countries as it seeks to isolate Taiwan diplomatically and build its own set of global institutions. 

Beijing’s relationship with the Solomon Islands has particularly blossomed after it switched its diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan in 2019. China and the Solomon Islands signed a security pact last year, alarming the U.S. and its allies such as Australia.

However, the U.S. remains militarily dominant in the Pacific and has sought to add to its capacity for deterrence, including an agreement to help equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines by next decade. 

Papua New Guinea and the U.S. signed a defense cooperation agreement in May that will give U.S. forces access to six air and sea ports in the country, once ratified by both sides.

Power announced about US$7.4 million of assistance for Papua New Guinea and also promised to expand efforts to prevent the spread of HIV, the virus that causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. Power visits Fiji on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Today marks yet another monumental chapter in the flourishing USA-PNG alliance,” Marape said at the press conference. 

The assistance included US$1.2 million for a solar power “mini grid” in Central Province that in conjunction with a Singapore-based energy company would eventually give about 800 households and 30 businesses access to a reliable electricity supply.

The U.S. in 2021 allocated about US$57 million to improving the electricity supply in Papua New Guinea, where aid agencies have estimated only 13% of people are connected to the electricity grid. The proportion with some electricity supply is significantly higher when off-grid energy such as local solar power is factored in.

The funding is projected to give some 200,000 households access to electricity. It is part of a broader plan in conjunction with Japan, Australia and New Zealand, announced in 2018, to help Papua New Guinea reach its ambitious goal of connecting 70% of the population to reliable electricity by the end of this decade.

Meanwhile, a consortium of two Chinese companies is waiting to begin work on the government’s flagship 180-megawatt Ramu 2 hydropower dam, according to a presentation in March for Papua New Guinea’s National Research Institute.

The contract for the US$940 million project was awarded in 2016. It would increase Papua New Guinea electricity generation capacity by nearly one third and provide power for mining and other industries.

The USAID assistance announced by Power also was earmarked for several other causes including hospital supplies, disaster relief in the autonomous region of Bougainville, where people have been displaced by a volcanic eruption, the combating of severe malnutrition, and disaster preparedness. 


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.