The United States’ international aid agency has announced several million dollars of humanitarian assistance and a solar power project for Papua New Guinea (PNG) as the U.S. underscores a renewed commitment to Pacific Island Countries (PIC).
Samantha Power, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), visited PNG and Fiji in mid-August 2023 for the opening of an enlarged regional mission.
In the PNG capital, Port Moresby, 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 news conference with PNG Prime Minister James Marape.
In Fiji, Power highlighted a revamped regional mission that will work with nine PICs. Washington outlined plans to boost its USAID presence during a summit with Pacific island leaders in September 2022.
The People’s Republic of China (PRC), 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 global institutions.
Beijing’s relationship with the Solomon Islands has blossomed since the Solomons switched its diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to the PRC in 2019. The PRC and the Solomon Islands signed a security pact in 2022, alarming the U.S. and its allies such as Australia.
PNG and the U.S. signed a defense cooperation agreement in May 2023 that will grant U.S. forces access to six air and sea ports in the country.
Power announced about $7.4 million of assistance for PNG and promised to expand HIV prevention efforts.
“Today marks yet another monumental chapter in the flourishing USA-PNG alliance,” Marape said.
The assistance includes $1.2 million for a solar power minigrid in Central Province that, in conjunction with a Singapore-based energy company, will eventually provide about 800 households and 30 businesses with a reliable electricity supply.
The U.S. in 2021 allocated about $57 million to improving the electricity supply in PNG, where an estimated 13% of residents are connected to the grid, although access is higher when off-grid energy such as solar power is included.
The funding is projected to provide 200,000 households with access to electricity. It is part of a plan in conjunction with Australia, Japan and New Zealand, announced in 2018, to help PNG connect 70% of its population to reliable electricity by 2030.
The USAID assistance announced by Power also includes funds for disaster relief in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, where people have been displaced by a volcanic eruption; as well for disaster preparedness and combating malnutrition.