The Autonomous Region of Bougainville (formally known as the Northern Solomons Province) is comprised of two main islands, Bougainville Island and Buka Island, and many small islands and atolls. In total, the Region’s terrestrial area covers approximately 9,384km2 (About 3621 Sq Miles or just above 2 Mil Acres). The Region is organised into three sub-districts; North, Central and South. The landscape is a mix of coastal and mountainous areas with the highest feature, Mount Balbi, reaching 2,715m (8907ft) above sea level.
The population of Bougainville was recorded as 249,358 in the 2011 census but is estimated to now be around 300,000. Its people, Bougainvilleans, are mostly Melanesian but there are also descendants of Micronesian and Polynesian origin (mostly from the outer atolls). The majority of the population live outside the three main urban centres in villages.
There are at least 19 distinct indigenous languages in Bougainville. Tok Pisin (Papua New Guinean Pidgin English) is the lingua franca across the districts and English is also widely spoken.
Most of the region is humid and hot with an annual mean temperature of 27 degrees Celsius (or 80 Degrees F). Rainfall decreases further north in the Region from 4500mm (177 inches) in the South of Bougainville Island to 2500mm (98 inches) in the North of Buka Island per year.
A referal hospital is located in Buka Town and Arawa has a large health centre. Small health centres are located across the region. Bougainville is prone to tropical and mosquito-borne diseases.
The Region experiences earthquakes and is vulnerable to tsunamis on its coastal areas. Bougainville Island also has a number of active volcanoes. The Region does not experience tropical cyclones but in the event of strong rainfall river crossings and bridges are prone to flooding.
There are three main town centres in the Region; Buka Town, Arawa and Buin.
Buka Town – Located on the Buka Island shore of the Buka Passage (the channel separating Bougainville and Buka Islands), Buka Town is the current capital of the Region and hosts the Autonomous Government’s headquarters. Transport to Bougainville Island from Buka Town is available at several boat stops in the centre of town. Taxi and PMV (Public Motor Vehicle) services are also available for getting around Buka Town. Buka Town also has an airport which is regularly serviced via Port Moresby and Rabaul.
Arawa – Formally the capital of the Province, Arawa is located in Central Bougainville. Prior to the crisis Arawa was a busy town during the active years of the nearby the Panguna Copper Mine. Taxis and PMVs also operate in Arawa. Nearby on the coast south from the township is Kieta/Aropa Airport and Kieta Port.
Buin – Located in Bougainville’s Southern District, Buin is accessible from Arawa via two roads (one following the Eastern coast or one passing by the Panguna Mine). Buin’s proximity to the southern coast of Bougainville also means it is an informal point of contact with the neighbouring Solomon Islands.