Planning for Sustainable Development in the Pacific Islands
Professor of Geography
University of the South Pacific
Paper presented at an International Symposium on "Small Islands and Sustainable Development" organized by the United Nations University and the National Land Agency of Japan.
The Pacific islands have long been aware of their small size,
scattered nature, remoteness from major centres of production and
consumption, and ecological and economic vulnerability. Even before
the Earth Summit of June 1992, which led to the widespread
international acceptance of the concept of sustainable
development, they had begun to seriously look at their
environmental and developmental situation, as evidenced by the
Conference on the Human Environment in the South Pacific in June
1982, and the formation then of the South Pacific Regional
Environment Programme (SPREP). Today, the concept of sustainable
development is widely acknowledged in the Pacific islands.
This paper discusses issues relating to planning for
sustainable development in the Pacific islands. Beginning with a
brief survey of the features that led Agenda 21 to declare that
"Small island developing States, and islands supporting small
communities are a special case both for environment and
development" (United Nations, 1993:163), it discusses what
sustainable development means for the Pacific, and the broad
development strategies implied by it. The paper reviews the Suva
Declaration on Sustainable Human Development in the Pacific of
1994, and identifies additional areas that need attention. These
include external threats to Pacific islands environment;
opportunities and impediments inherent in the international
economic system, to which small islands are extremely vulnerable;
the need to examine seriously greater economic integration among
small economies, and the continuation of a regional approach to
development; better management of island populations; substantial
improvement in education in Melanesia; improvement in the position
of women; and closer monitoring of activities relating to
sustainable development to ensure optimal use of scarce resources.
The paper also reviews efforts to implement sustainable
development, and examines projects already underway by regional and
international organizations. It discusses strategies needed to
ensure that the philosophy of sustainable development informs
public policy, such as the continuation of meetings to sensitize
senior public policy makers to the new development thinking, and
the training of adequate manpower both in development generally and
in the specialist area of environmental management. It also argues
for major improvement in the collection, timely analysis and
publication of easily accessible information.
1. Different Perceptions of Sustainable Development
The most widely used definition of sustainable development is
the one given by the World Commission on Environment and
Development (WCED) in its 1987 report Our Common Future:
Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the
present without compromising the ability of future generations to
meet their needs (WCED, 1987:43). Within this broad definition,
people have adopted different emphases. Some have taken
sustainable development to mean development that is ecologically
sustainable, the emphasis being on the environment, resource
conservation and protection of biological diversity. The overall
emphasis is thus on the physical environment.
To others, sustainable development has both ecological and
socio-economic dimensions. Sustainable development to them refers
to a type of development that is ecologically, economically,
socially, politically and culturally sustainable. Cernea (1993:11)
has strongly argued, for instance, that sustainability must be
'socially constructed'-- that is, arrangements of a social and
economic nature must be made purposely. This is why building
sustainability must be approached as a threefold task--social,
economic, and ecological--simultaneously.
The United Nation Development Programme's concept of
sustainable human development has added another dimension to the
consideration of sustainable development: human development. This
concept, which extends the idea of sustainable development, and
emphasizes the socio-economic aspects of development, is attractive
because it focuses explicitly on human beings. Even in the
terminology, it is obvious that human beings are at the centre of
development. In this sense, the concept of sustainable human
development is a vision of development rather than a concrete plan
of development. This is to say, one can change components of the
strategy as long as it leads to a people-centred development.
The operationally most useful definition of sustainable
development is provided by Bartelmus (1994:73) because it covers
the core areas of satisfaction of human needs, preservation of
natural resource base, environmental quality and social equity: the
set of development programmes that meets the targets of human needs
satisfaction without violating long-term natural resource
capacities and standards of environmental quality and social
2. South Pacific Islands: smallness, isolation, dependence, and
The Rio Summit recognized the special problems of small
developing island states (United Nations, 1993:163). Most reports
on small islands have identified their limitations, and this paper
will not belabour these. It will, nonetheless, be useful to
summarize the main relevant features of the small islands,
providing a necessary context to the discussions later. These
features can be put under the following headings: smallness,
remoteness from major centres of production and consumption, a high
degree of dependency, ecological vulnerability, and vulnerability
to international economic shocks.
The developing countries in the Pacific have a land area of
only 550, 073 km2 but are spread in the world's largest ocean. The
land areas vary considerably, with the largest island country in
the South Pacific, Papua New Guinea, being slightly larger than
Japan (Table 1), but the bulk of the countries being very small
indeed. Nauru, Pitcairn, Tokelau and Tuvalu can only be described
as wafer-sized, none being larger than 27km2. Eleven of the twenty-
two countries and territories are less than 500km2.
A very good indication of the small size of South Pacific
countries is their population. Papua New Guinea, with almost four
million people, has the largest population, representing more than
sixty percent of the combined population of the Pacific island
countries and territories. Fiji, with a population of 777,700
people (Table 1), has the second-highest population. The bulk of
the countries of the South Pacific, however, have very small
populations, the lowest being just 53 in the case of Pitcairn
However, the small land areas of the Pacific islands are, to
some extent, compensated for by the extremely large sea areas
(Table 1). Kiribati, for instance, has a sea area of 3,550,000 km2,
over 5,000 times its land area. Overall, the ratio of land area to
sea area in the South Pacific is 1:54 (calculated from Table 1).
Not only are South Pacific countries small to extremely small,
they are far removed from Japan, North America and Europe, the main
centres of global consumption. Australia and New Zealand represent
some opportunities for export, but this is constrained by their
small markets and lacklustre economic performance. In addition,
transportation costs reduce competitiveness, and uncertain air and
shipping linkages are significant obstacles to efficient export
Dependence affects countries irrespective of size, but its
consequences are more debilitating and inescapable in the case of
the very small Pacific island countries. Most of them have been
colonies, and have continued to depend heavily on metropolitan
countries in a number of crucial areas, such as aid, including
budgetary support, markets, imports, and technology. They still
depend on developed countries for education and military support.
In sum, we can say that the Pacific island countries are some of
the most dependent countries in the world.
(d) Ecological Fragility
Most Pacific island countries have complex but vulnerable
ecosystems. Animal and plant species have been shielded in their
island environments for long periods. This, combined with the
smallness of the islands, means that ecological disruptions and
disasters can be far more consequential for these islands.
(e) Vulnerability to External Shocks
Most Pacific island developing countries have extremely open
economies. They also depend on a very narrow range of commodities,
chiefly primary products, for exports. With the exception of Papua
New Guinea's influence in global mineral markets, most Pacific
island economies are not significant global producers. All these
factors, combined with fluctuating and deteriorating prices, have
made these economies extremely vulnerable to external shocks.
3. Planning for Sustainable Human Development in the Pacific
The SPREP and the UNDP have spearheaded the pursuit of
sustainable development in the Pacific islands. SPREP organized the
region's input into the Rio summit, and is now widely recognized
regionally and internationally as the region's co-ordinating agency
in the area of environmental matters.
The UNDP has been pushing for sustainable development in the
Pacific islands as part of its global pursuit of human development.
In fact, the UNDP concluded a ministerial level meeting in 1994 to
discuss the whole concept and practice of human development in the
Pacific islands. The meeting adopted the Suva Declaration on
Sustainable Human Development in the Pacific (UNDP, 1994a). The
UNDP has also released the Pacific Human Development Report (UNDP,
Although most development thinkers agree in general with the
concept of sustainable development, and with the UNDP-led concept
of human development, there remains considerable difference of
opinion on what constitutes sustainable development (Bartelmus,
What do South Pacific island government's want in terms of
their development strategies, and what is their position on the
crucial question of sustainable development? Normally, it would be
difficult to ascertain this properly. However, we are fortunate
that there have been important international conferences on the
issue, and after considerable debate and discussion, the island
governments have formulated agreed-upon positions. These documents
are extremely important in gauging government thinking and their
The South Pacific region has put forward its views forcefully
to three recent meetings: the Earth Summit of June 1992 in Rio de
Janeiro; the Barbados Conference on the Sustainable Development of
Small Islands of May 1994; and the International Conference on
Population and Development (Cairo, September 1994). In each case,
the Pacific Islands have held wide-ranging discussions, and adopted
a regional position. The discussions for the last two international
meetings were held in Port Vila, Vanuatu, and the agreed positions
are carried in the respective Port Vila Declarations. The views of
the island governments are also reflected in the Draft Plan of
Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing
States. In addition, Pacific islands ministers and officials have
adopted The Suva Declaration on Sustainable Human Development in
the Pacific (UNDP, 1994a). These documents provide a useful summary
of governments' positions, and will be utilized later.
Planning for sustainable development has three components:
identification of what kind of development we wish to have;
identification of the main components and strategies; and what we
need to do to ensure that planners in fact plan for sustainable
What kind of development?
In The Suva Declaration on Sustainable Human Development in
the Pacific, attended by 14 countries and territories in the South
Pacific, the Pacific islands leaders Reaffirm[ed] that on account
of the growing complexity of the issues involved, Pacific island
countries are faced with new and unique challenges, foremost of
which is how to realign policies, plans and programmes for a more
effective response to current human development problems and
constraints; and Emphasize[d] that the pursuit of human well-being
means maintaining the Pacific quality of life which ensures
economic, social and spiritual well-being irrespective of age,
gender, racial origin, creed and place of abode (UNDP, 1994a:2).
The Declaration identified 14 major strategies for the future
development of the region:
These fourteen areas identified above do represent the core of
sustainable development strategies for the Pacific islands. The
strong emphasis on the rural sector, including access to land arise
out of the fact that Pacific island populations are still largely
rural. Improved rural livelihoods are expected to slow down the
flow of people to towns, thus slowing down the very rapid rate of
- Improved rural and subsistence productivity;
- Promotion of participatory and community-based development;
- Improved access to land;
- Expanded employment opportunities for rural/subsistence
- Reduction in spatial inequalities, particularly urban-rural
- Advancement of women;
- Expanded involvement of youth in development;
- Support for population policies and programmes;
- Support for environmental regeneration;
- Promotion of preventative and primary health care;
- Greater relevance in formal and informal educational systems;
- Effective governance;
- Greater resources for human development;
- Enhanced ability to monitor the human development situation.
The interest in spatial equality is a response to the broader
interest in equitable development that also includes emphasis on
the advancement of women, but it also arises out of concern with
problems usually attributed to urbanization, such as housing
shortages (usually) leading to squatter settlements; urban
congestion and pollution; problems of solid waste disposal; and the
oft observed social breakdown.
The other areas highlighted in the Declaration conform to
international interest in the population-development-environment
debate, environmental conservation, better health, and human
4. Additional Areas and Areas of Further Emphasis
There are important areas that have been left out of the
Declaration which, given that it is one drawn up by government
representatives, is not altogether surprising. These areas are
(a) Greater Regional Integration
The Pacific islands have realized their small size and
vulnerability in the world system which is increasingly being
dominated by the United States of America and regional blocks. They
need to cooperate to obtain the maximum benefits from the world
system and to avoid or lessen its harmful effects. This is already
happening, as observed earlier in the paper, typified by the strong
regional approach adopted for all the major international
conferences recently. This is clearly a necessary and wise approach
but one which can easily be taken for granted and not recognized as
an integral part of sustainable human development in the South
However, the Pacific islands need to go beyond what they have
done so far: they have to seriously explore the formation of a
regional economic union. Clearly, the move globally is towards
regional economic and political integration. If the larger, more
diversified and powerful countries in Europe are working so hard
towards European Union, the much smaller, more vulnerable Pacific
islands need regional economic integration even more.
(b) More Cost-effective Regional Organizations
It is to the credit of Pacific islands that they have
developed strong regional organizations to promote their
development and to ensure regional approaches where appropriate.
However, with increasing pressure on national budgets, and with the
prospect of reduced future aid levels, governments will need to
ensure that regional organizations do not duplicate activities, and
operate as effectively and efficiently as possible.
already a strong feeling in the Pacific that the regional
organizations can be made more cost-effective, and that they will
need to be restructured to ensure that a greater proportion of
funds actually flow to the grassroots people.
(c) Monitoring the External Sector: Environmental
Most of the really serious environmental problems faced by the
island countries emanate from outside the region. Siwatibau
(1991:27), one of the region's most insightful analysts, probably
had this in mind when he wrote:
Pacific island countries face serious threat from nuclear
testing in the region. However sound the environmental management
of the island countries, nuclear testing could spell catastrophe
for the region. In a similar vein, the islands, particularly the
low-lying atolls, face serious problems from possible sea-level
rise. The Pacific will suffer the consequences of
environmental mismanagement by the developed and the large
developing countries. It is for this reason that the islands need
to maintain united and constant pressure on the international
community to take urgent measures to reduce the output of
greenhouse gases. It also needs to maintain pressure on France to
stop testing nuclear devices in the region, and to be vigilant
against attempts to dump dangerous waste in the region.
"A sustainable development path for the island countries with
stable physical and biological environments may not, in the
long run, be achievable without the willing cooperation of
countries outside the region."
(d) Monitoring the External Environment-Economic
The Pacific islands are extremely open economies. Either
individually or even collectively (except perhaps in fisheries),
the islands do not have much influence in international economics.
However, they could support general efforts by developing countries
as a whole to ensure freer trading and better commodity prices.
It is encouraging that the region's premier organization, the
South Pacific Forum Secretariat, has been given observer status at
the United Nations. The Forum needs to strengthen its co-ordinating
role in economic areas.
(e) Greater Democratization in the Region
Sustainable development implies people-centred development. It
specifically implies greater political freedom, and greater popular
participation in decision-making. While the region is, by and
large, democratic, two points have to be borne in mind. First,
democracies are under threat in many countries, either through
military coups as in Fiji, or through endemic political
instability, such as in Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and, to a lesser
extent, Papua New Guinea, or through increasing law and order
problems. Second, Tonga continues as an autocratic society,
although there is an active pro-democracy movement there aiming to
introduce a constitutional monarchy. Furthermore, governments in
the region, as governments in other parts of the world, are
centralist; there ought to be a major effort to move towards
decentralized government within appropriate national frameworks.
(f) Greater Focus on Human Resource Development
By international standards, the Pacific islands have made
remarkable progress in human resource development. Life
expectancies are high, literacy is relatively high, and there is
little abject poverty. However, the region faces a serious problem
in human resource development. In Melanesian countries, educational
development is low, and there are serious problems of quality.
Given this serious shortcoming, and the near-universal realization
that economic success in the new international environment requires
highly developed human resources, the region will need to give high
priority to human resource development.
In doing so, there is the obvious danger that governments will
concentrate on tertiary education to the detriment of primary and
secondary education. Governments will need to ensure that adequate
resources are provided to primary education. It is in primary
education that social returns are the highest. There is widespread
evidence that the primary educational sector in Melanesia in
particular, but in the region in general, needs considerable
improvement. Some countries are undertaking the necessary reforms,
such as in Tuvalu, which introduced an innovative life education
Secondary education is seriously underdeveloped in Melanesia.
In the case of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, the
situation is critical and needs (and to some extent is receiving)
urgent attention. In all three countries, the adult literacy rates
are among the lowest in the Pacific islands, being 52 percent, 62
percent and 64 percent respectively. The mean years of schooling
also tell a similar story: 2.1 years, 2.8 years and 4.0 years
respectively, with Papua New Guinea's mean years of schooling being
22 percent of that of Palau's and 23 percent of Western Samoa's,
two of the highest figures in the region (data from Booth and
Muthiah, 1993: Table 2).
In promoting more and better education, the island countries
will need to bear in mind the economics of education. This means,
in most instances, making the best use of the facilities offered by
the regionally-owned University of the South Pacific and
universities in Papua New Guinea rather than attempting to create
unviable national universities.
The region will also need to ensure that the educational
systems are linked effectively with the current and, more
importantly, the future demands of the economy. This is implied in
the call for greater relevance in formal and non-formal education
in the Suva Declaration on Sustainable Human Development in the
Pacific. In all Pacific island countries, this would call for
upgraded manpower planning or at least better manpower data keeping
and greater investment in vocational training, particularly in
tourism which is emerging as one of the best economic prospects of
many island countries but in which there is negligible training. It
will also need to involve greater training in science and
technology, although this will have to be harmonized with the fact
that in none of the Pacific islands, large scale engineering or
science oriented development is likely.
(h) A Sense of Mission
Human history shows that societal achievement is tied very
strongly to a sense of mission, or a political and generalized will
to succeed in the achievement of a shared goal. South Korea and
Taiwan have succeeded where nations with greater human and natural
resources have failed, and this is partly attributable to a sense
of mission of these societies.
In the management literature, organizations have been called
to articulate their mission. Most good organizations have developed
organizational missions. There is clear transferability to
countries: I would argue that countries with clear, broadly
derived, and clearly enunciated missions are more likely to achieve
sustainable development than those without them. The Pacific
islands have been caught in the cultural preservation/economic
growth dilemma. The very favourable aid environment and trade
access under SPARTECA, Lome, and GSP have cushioned Pacific island
leaders from the need to take clear and hard decisions. Now the
islands will need to take a clear, bold, and consistent stand in
relation to development objectives and strategies.
(i) More Serious Attention to Population Issues
Even if one disputes the "doomsday" scenarios recently painted
by the book Pacific 2010: Challenging the Future, one must
recognize that population represents one of the Pacific islands'
greatest challenges. The Bali Declaration, forming the Asian and
Pacific region's input into the International Conference on
Population and Development, recognized this firmly:
"We express concern that population issues remain among the
most pressing challenges facing the region .... Population
factors play a decisive role in all human endeavours,
especially in safeguarding the environment and the pursuit of
sustainable development. Accordingly, population
considerations must be fully integrated into all aspects of
planning and policy-making" (ESCAP, 1992:48).
The population of the Pacific islands is increasing at the
average annual rate of 2.3 percent (South Pacific Commission,
1994:6). In Micronesian countries, the rate of population growth is
very high, averaging 3.5 percent per annum. In Melanesia, the
growth rate is 2.3 percent. While the exact relationships between
population growth and development are still being debated, there is
little doubt that for Pacific islands, a few of which already have
some of the highest population densities in the world, and which
have fragile ecosystems a poor record of economic development,
rapid population growth is likely to have extremely serious
consequences. Rapid population growth is likely to make it
extremely difficult for most Pacific islands, but especially for
Micronesia and Melanesia, to make any improvements in their
educational systems as they struggle to keep pace with the rapid
entry of school leaving age population:
"The most plausible conclusion is that the combination of
rapidly growing school-age population and slow-growing GDP
will make it impossible for these countries to make much
qualitative progress with their education systems. Even 20
years from now, it will not be possible for Papua New Guinea,
Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to provide a basic 10 years of
schooling to everyone of school age" (Gannicott, 1993:26).
The other arena in which rapid increase in population is
already having a major potentially catastrophic consequence is in
employment generation. Even in countries with what could be
regarded modest rates of population increase, such as Fiji, the
creation of wage employment has accommodated only a tiny fraction
of the yearly entry into the labour force. Again, given the
economic prospects of the majority of the Pacific islands, rapid
population increase will put extreme pressure on the labour market.
All of these call for a frank recognition that population
growth must be curbed. But population problems are not confined to
the question of growth. Governments will also have to address the
issue of internal population mobility, specially rural-urban
mobility; the changing patterns of settlement, specially the rapid
rise of urban population; and child and maternal health. In sum,
governments have to avoid relegating the issue of population growth
to a secondary consideration.
(j) Women in Development
The Suva Declaration and most other recent statements on
Pacific island development, have emphasized the importance of fully
integrating women in national development. There is widespread
acceptance of the need to improve the situation of women in the
Pacific islands. Most governments are publicly committed to this,
and many donors are funding activities to assist this.
It is important to promote region-wide sharing of experiences
and expertise among women. It is similarly important to have a good
flow of information, and thus a newsletter will serve an important
function. There is currently little emphasis on women's studies.
Although there has been some change recently, a little teaching on
women having being introduced at the University of the South
Pacific, there is no women's studies programme in the Pacific.
While the position of women needs improvement generally, the
position of women in Melanesian countries needs particular
attention. Women's organizations are themselves trying to undertake
projects to improve the situation of women. In Solomon Islands and
Vanuatu, for instance, there are strong national women's
associations. These and other similar organizations need urgent
assistance. Such assistance can be small scale, but it will have a
major impact on the lives of women.
It is also important to ensure that the issue of women in
development is fully integrated into the national planning systems.
Further, women's issues should be integrated into the higher
educational systems of the islands. It may be useful to seriously
explore the setting up of programmes in women's studies at the
University of the South Pacific and the University of Papua New
Guinea. In both cases, only modest funds are needed to ensure that
students can take courses as electives in most of the degrees, as
well be able to specialize in women's issues as part of their
(k) Distance Education
The need for greater assistance to women in the Pacific brings
me to the issue of distance education. Distance education
represents one of the most exiting opportunities for sustainable
Pacific islands development. It is low-cost, provides education and
training without taking students from their homes, villages and
countries, and it enables women, who face obstacles in moving away
from their families, to obtain education.
The University of the South Pacific currently provides the
most comprehensive system of distance education in the Pacific
islands, offering about 139 courses per year in all of its twelve
member countries. It has now become a fully dual-mode university,
with about 40 percent of students learning through distance
Distance education is also offered by the Distance education
college in Papua New Guinea, by the University of Technology in Lae
(Papua New Guinea), by the Solomon Islands College of Higher
Education (SICHE) and The Fiji School of Nursing. The South Pacific
Regional Seminary is also developing distance education.
Clearly, many educators have now come to more fully realize
the value of distance education in the South Pacific. However, for
distance education to reach its full potential, major assistance
will need to be provided.
(l) Non-Formal Education
In some Pacific islands, given that secondary education has
such low coverage, and given that even if economic growth were
high, rapid population increase will make qualitative improvements
in the education systems extremely difficult, the region has to
look at other ways of educating the present adult population. Many
of the key decisions in the Pacific islands regarding forest,
marine, mineral and land resources will be made by a generation of
people lacking education. Educating a small proportion of the
population will not improve the situation, and it will certainly do
noting to improve the situation of the present generation of
adults. This calls for a greater focus on non-formal education.
There are quite effective non-formal education providers in the
Pacific islands, and sustainable development calls for an expansion
of the operations of these organizations.
Perhaps the most successful example of a NGO involved in real
grass-roots development on a national scale is the Solomon Islands
Development Trust (SIDT).
The SIDT's 1992 report puts its basic thrust as follows:
"SIDT tries to bring development back to the people. It's
about serious investments in basic education, e.g., literacy.
The Trust focuses its 300 trained villagers, theatre teams,
publications and women's programs to the service of village
people. SIDT invests its resources in the basics of a
thriving rural economy where the garden, sea, reef and forest
resources are strengthened, enhanced, not destroyed.... To do
otherwise means trouble for the whole country" (SIDT, 1993:3).
SIDT operates on an annual budget of SI$835,054 (1992), a very
small budget compared with other organizations, and relative to
SIDT's work programme.
The SIDT runs programs in basic literacy using comics and
theatre teams. It has the largest number of village based trainers
who in 1992 conducted 542 population awareness and resource
management workshops and 288 special workshops, covering 60,664
people or eighteen percent of the total population of Solomon
Islands. SIDT also runs a special Women's Initiative Program which
in 1992 trained 677 women all over Solomon Islands.
The remarkable features of SIDT are that it is driven by a
mission to improve the quality of life of the majority of the
population; that it emphasizes human resource development; and that
it is widely accepted by the community and the government. It
(m) Non-Government Organizations
There is growing recognition in the development literature of
the importance of nongovernment organizations in development. As
governments come under budgetary pressure, and the effectiveness
and efficiency of government agencies come under increasing
scrutiny, NGOs are increasingly being seen as cost-effective
development agents close to the needs of the common people.
We have already seen the excellent example of SIDT and what it
is achieving with very modest funding. The Pacific islands have
many strong and worthwhile NGOs, including religious organizations,
which should be strengthened not only through donor funding, but
also through government support.
(n) Revitalizing Economic Growth
One of the shortcomings of the current discussions of
sustainable development of Pacific islands is the lack of attention
to the need to significantly increase economic growth. If the
rapidly increasing populations are to find meaningful employment,
if income inequalities are to be narrowed, and if special attention
is to be paid to the advancement of women, then economies will need
to grow rapidly.
In the past, the economic performance of the Pacific islands
has been poor. The World Bank's 1990 survey of the Pacific islands
made this observation:
"The economic performance of the six World Bank Pacific Island
member countries in the 1980s has been disappointing despite
some of the highest inflows of per capita development
assistance worldwide. The lacklustre performance of Pacific
island economies cannot be simply be attributed top the fact
that these are small, remote, open island economies.
Comparable economies in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean
registered a far stronger growth performance during the same
time period while facing less favourable external environment"
(World Bank, 1990: 1).
The latest assessment by the World Bank (1993:ix) is similar,
comparing almost stagnation in the Pacific islands in the 1980s
with per capita growth in the Caribbean of 2.4 percent per annum
and 3.6 percent in the Indian Ocean islands.
International discussions of sustainable development recognize
that economic growth, albeit of a different quality, is still
central to the development process. The United Nations argues in
its Global Outlook 2000, for instance, that:
"Sustainable development does not imply cessation of economic
growth. Rather it requires a recognition that the problems of
poverty and underdevelopment and related environmental
problems cannot be solved without vigorous economic growth"
(United Nations, 1992:75).
The Report of the World Commission on Environment and
Development, which launched the international effort towards
sustainable development, put particular emphasis on reviving growth
and changing its quality (Bartelmus, 1994:8).
The Pacific islands will need to promote rapid economic growth
but within a sustainable development framework. There is no
substitute for rapid economic growth. Rapid economic growth will
require clear strategies, firm adherence to policies in the face of
temptations for adhocism, and a better management of public
resources. Greater attention to human resource development has
already been agreed to by most governments. Overall, governments
will need to be more committed to living within their means, and to
improving productivity throughout the society, including government
service. Governments will also need to continue their efforts to
seek foreign direct investment (FDI) since FDI and export success
are now closely related.
(o) Conservation of Resources Governments
Governments have already identified environmental regeneration
as one of the key components of sustainable development in the
Pacific. There is a need to promote conservation of resources.
Clearly, this should apply to all areas, but it should particularly
cover water conservation; conservation of forest cover,
biodiversity, marine diversity; conservation of energy. The Pacific
islands have already made some headway in alternative energy,
particularly in photovoltaics, but also in more efficient
woodstoves. Some countries are exploring wave energy. These
projects should continue to receive government and donor support so
that the islands can reduce their dependence on fossil fuels, which
is both expensive and environmentally degrading.
(p) Information Technology
The development of all societies has become intricately tied
to information technology, which is both a powerful instrument of
social change as well as a critical determinant of comparative
The Pacific islands have already begun to integrate into the
global information system, but more needs to be done urgently.
Although computers are now commonplace in government service,
regional organizations, and private corporations, they remain
underutilized due to a lack of training. In the area of
telecommunications, national carriers have kept pace with new
trends, but available technologies, which have become both cheaper
and more robust, are not being fully utilized.
A strong push is needed to make information and information
systems better serve the needs of sustainable development. This
should include greater availability of computers, more training in
the (full) use of computers, the establishment of new and
strengthening of existing electronic information and data exchange
systems for use by government and non-government organizations, and
the use of satellite systems for education and community
development. It is important that data exchange systems that are
developed link organizations locally, regionally and
An example of what can be achieved will clarify the role of
good information systems. With the office computer and a cheap
modem, a women's organization dials into the national database and
downloads data on domestic violence. It is also able to check for
notices of meetings and conferences, and to post notices of its
own. A dial into the regional database checks notices, posts some
information, and downloads data showing trends in other countries.
Finally, a telephone call enables internet connection, allowing the
organization to download international data, check for important
notices, and post notices. It also allows it to take part in
discussion groups, and to access international news. The downloaded
data are integrated into the organization's newsletter and radio
programmes, considerably improving their effectiveness.
Some interesting and useful beginnings in this area have
already been made. The Peacesat system has been integrating most of
the Pacific islands electronically since the early 1970s, providing
a much needed conduit of information. The University of the South
Pacific has been operating a satellite-based network for distance
education for two decades, as well a conventional e-mail system
covering all its Centres and which provides gateways into internet
and bitnet. Through the assistance of the Australian
Vice-Chancellor's Committee, the USP system has access to the
international information superhighway. Other regional
organizations in the Pacific are also trying to establish
The data needs of sustainable development are not, however,
confined to computers and satellites. Current national data
systems need to be improved to collect more relevant data, analyze
data more rapidly, and to make it available quickly. In a sentence,
national data authorities need to improve their user interface.
It is only with good information systems that organizations
can succeed in creating greater awareness of the different
dimensions of sustainable development, and in evaluating and
critiquing various development projects.
5. Integrating Sustainable Human Development into National
While these orientations in development identified in the Suva
Declaration and broadened above are easily accepted by the
governments and development planners, it is still a long way away
from being practiced. However, we must note that the Pacific
islands have already made much progress towards sustainable
development. While what has been achieved leaves much to be
desired, in global terms, the Pacific islands may already be ahead
of other countries, a point that needs to be made as we press for
more changes towards making development more sustainable.
This section looks at how we can integrate the concerns and
requirements of sustainable development into national planning.
(a) Sensitizing Public Policy Makers
Perhaps the most important element is changing the current
thinking of politicians and planners, particularly those related to
finance, economics and planning. While many environmental issues
are discussed with ministers of environment, it is equally
important that the thinking of the finance ministers be changed. In
this respect, the holding of the meeting like the one held in 1994
by the UNDP is essential for the next few years. At these meetings,
papers representing global, regional and national thinking on
sustainable development, reports on action taken in the region, and
strategies for the future should be discussed.
A similar sensitization of senior development planners, not
only those associated with environment, is needed. The same range
of things identified above needs to be done with planners.
As noted earlier, meetings of this nature have already been
started, and need to be continued for the next few years.
(b) Changing the Training of Planners/Decision-makers
We also need to ensure that the new thinking on development is
part of the education system, particularly of those undertaking
undergraduate and postgraduate studies. It is essential that the
mainstream teaching of planners be changed to incorporate ideas of
sustainable development. While the above will be useful, there is
a need to set up specific graduate programmes in sustainable
development or to modify existing programmes to build specific
focus on sustainable development into them. Such new programmes or
modified programmes need to be established in the region, at the
University of the South Pacific and at the University of Papua New
Guinea. The cost of the programmes will be small if done within the
framework of these two institutions, and certainly lower than many
less useful initiatives often seen in the islands.
It is essential that further trained manpower become available
to the islands so that all development projects can be subjected to
scrutiny to see whether they are sustainable. Manpower is also
needed to ensure that all development discussions are properly
informed by sustainable development considerations. Trained
manpower is also needed to monitor society to see that legislation
is being complied with.
It is equally important to set up a higher degree in
development with a clear focus on sustainable human development.
In the long run, the ability of the South Pacific to achieve
sustainable development will depend powerfully on its human
resources, developed with good exposure to sustainable human
development ideas. This is best done if national and regional
capacity is built to achieve this.
Simply having international agencies doing things will not
provide a sustainable basis of change.
In this respect, strong consideration should be given in
building capacity at the University of Papua New Guinea and the
University of the South Pacific in areas of sustainable human
development. This is currently not happening. Once this capacity is
established and reinforced, the cost of future activities will be
(c) Strengthening National Environmental Legal Frameworks
Sustainable development requires the setting up of
environmental standards and enforcing these.
It also requires legal frameworks for new developments such as
Much of the current national legislations in the Pacific
islands are inadequate in this regard. Countries have inherited
colonial legislation and often have not revised them. Legislation
needs to be urgently consolidated, updated and streamlined.
Some governments have already begun to revise their
environmental legislation with the assistance of SPREP.
(d) Greater Co-ordination of Development Policies
The World Commission on Environment and Development identified
the need to merge environmental and economic decision-making as one
of the seven critical objectives of sustainable development (WCED,
This calls for the establishment of strong agencies within
governments overseeing the requirements of sustainable development
as well as providing technical expertise to scrutinise development
Some countries have already begun the process by establishing
departments of environment. However, to ensure that these efforts
are not nominal concessions to the prevailing push for sustainable
development, one would have to ensure that these departments are
provided adequate resources, both financial and human. Moreover,
the merging of environmental and economic decision-making needs to
take place at the very top, and powerful mechanisms will be need to
ensure this. Otherwise, the overall development strategies of the
countries will not change very much.
(e) The Development of National Sustainable Development Strategies
Since sustainable development requires a fundamental
reorientation of the development process, and given that the
current development processes have powerful vested interests, a
major effort is needed to reorientate society at large. This, and
the achievement of objectives identified above could be met more
easily if countries developed National Sustainable Development
There is some precedence for doing this, as most Pacific
islands countries have already formulated their National
Environmental Management Strategies (NEMS). Thus countries already
have broken part of the ground for his, and procedural details are
The development of NSDS will not only assist the
implementation of sustainable development by having specific aims
and objectives against which current and future development
performance can be measured, but the process of arriving at the
strategies will have created more awareness of the nature and
requirements of sustainable development.
(f) Reorienting Aid Priorities
The Pacific islands are among the world's highest per capita
aid recipients. Sustainable development requires the reorientation
of aid priorities towards gender and wider social equity, the
support of NGOs, and the development of the private sector, which
is expected to provide the bulk of the new jobs required by the
rapidly increasing populations of the Pacific islands. These
changes cannot be brought about by donors; national governments
will need to reorientate their aid priorities.
(g) Strengthening National and Regional Capacities
Governments, regional aid donors and international agencies
will need to make a determined effort to build and strengthen
national and regional capacities. It is important, for instance,
that education and training be provided as much as possible in
national and regional organizations. Where possible, consultancies
should include Pacific island citizens to derive longer-term
benefits of continuity, apart from the obvious advantage of closer
understanding of the situation in the islands.
While strengthening national and regional capacities is
proclaimed often enough, not enough is being done, sometimes
through the lethargy of national governments, and sometimes through
the self-interest of international organizations.
6. Achievements to date
As is demonstrated by the holding of the Pacific Conference on
the Human Environment as early as 1982, and the formation then of
the South Pacific Environment Programme, the Pacific islands have
already begun to seriously re-examine their development paths.
Today, the Pacific islands are on their way to implementing many of
the ideas of sustainable human development. The Pacific leaders of
have given their blessing to the ideas of sustainable human
development as seen in the Suva Declaration, as well as in the two
Port Vila Declarations. Moreover, specific action has already
started that would make Pacific islands development more
sustainable in the future.
It is vital that proposed activities in the area of
sustainable development avoid duplicating the work already being
done in the region. It is for this reason important to sketch the
work that is already underway in support of sustainable
(a) Review of National Environmental Legislation
As already indicated, many countries are now undertaking a
review of national environmental legislation to streamline and
consolidate existing legislation and to introduce new ones.
(b) National Environmental Management Strategies (NEMS)
Most of the Pacific island countries prepared their own
reports for the Rio summit. As part of that process, NEMS for most
island countries have been prepared under SPREP's aegis.
Drawing on the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), SPREP has
started work on the preservation of Pacific island biodiversity.
The McArthur Foundation of the United States has also provided a
large grant to the Geography Department of the University of the
South Pacific in support of biodiversity activities.
(d) UNDP's Sustainable Development Network
The United Nations is attempting to set up a sustainable
(e) Population and Development
Supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), this
project is just getting underway at the Pacific Islands Development
Programme (East-West Centre, Honolulu) to undertake policy-related
research in the Pacific islands, and to strengthen island capacity
in this area.
The University of the South Pacific, the University of Papua
New Guinea, the Australian National University and the University
of Hawaii all provide teaching, research, and consulting in the
area of population and development.
(f) National Sustainable Development Strategies
There has been a call for the development of national
sustainable development strategies, and Papua New Guinea has
already started the process. Following the Rio summit, PNG held a
seminar in November 1992 to discuss how its resolutions could be
given national expression. It has proposed a strong Technical Task
Force and a National Sustainable Steering Committee (Barletmus,
1994: 138). There is a similar push for sustainable development
strategies in other island countries.
(g) Sustainable Use of Marine Resources
The Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) has long worked to ensure
sustainable harvesting of the region's fish stocks. It negotiated
a unique agreement with the United States government regarding that
country's fishing in South Pacific waters. It also played a
critical role in the imposition of the world-wide ban by the United
Nations on driftnet fishing. Therefore, in fisheries, the Pacific
islands already leads the rest of the world in sustainable
(h) Women's Development
Australia and New Zealand already require gender parity in
scholarship awardees from the islands, and are supporting
activities design to empower women. However, much more needs to be
done, particularly in Melanesia.
(i) Resource Inventories
Island governments have already started to prepare resource
inventories. There has been a rapid development of Geographical
Information Systems (GIS), which is capable of dramatically
improving resource-related decision-making. Fiji is has perhaps
developed its GIS in the form of a national land information system
the furthest among the Pacific island countries. The University of
the South Pacific, which has been designated as the centre for the
regional provision of formal training in GIS has started teaching
introductory GIS, and aid agencies are providing short-term
training as well as fellowships for degree level studies. SPREP and
SOPAC have also developed expertise in GIS, which they are using to
disseminate among island countries.
(j) Coastal Zone Protection
The Pacific islands have been concerned for some time with
coastal zone degradation, and recently, there have been programmes
to assess coastal zone management, and to enhance the protection of
coasts. The Pacific Islands Development Programme has financed some
work in this area, evaluating the use of particular technologies
for coastal protection. Recently, the SPREP and SOPAC have been
collaborating to improve coastal zone protection.
(k) Waste Disposal
Waste disposal poses serious problems in the small islands,
particularly on atolls which have porous surface structures. This
is recognized to be a serious problem, and some training has been
conducted for Island officials in this by the European Union. The
European Union will probably continue to support work in this area.
(l) Human Resource Development
The Pacific islands have already recognized the central role
of human resource development in their development process. The new
round of funding under Lome N is expected to considerably increase
funds for HRD.
Solomon Islands and Vanualu have received advice and loans
from the World Bank to improve their primary and secondary
education systems. Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain and the
European Union are all also helping in HRD.
Short-term training in environmental matters is being provided
through SPREP, who have held many regional short courses on
environmental management, including courses on environmental impact
assessments. Degree level training is being provided by the
universities in the region (USP, UPNG, and the University of
Technology (of PNG). Graduate training is being provided by these
as well as by universities in metropolitan countries.
(m) Agricultural Development
There is increasing understanding in the Pacific islands of
the need for more sustainable agriculture. Fortunately, many of the
countries have retained their biodiversity to a significant degree,
and are actively promoting agroforestry. The previous bias towards
monocultural systems is thus expected to be slowed down.
This paper has attempted to discuss the essential ingredients
of planning for sustainable development in the Pacific islands.
Instead of relying on the concept of sustainable development per
se, which has a tendency to focus excessively on ecological
Sustainability, the concept of sustainable human development has
Because of their peculiar circumstances of small size,
remoteness from the major centres of production and consumption,
high degree of dependence, and ecological and economic
vulnerability, the Pacific islands have always been conscious of
sustainable development. Most of the traditional resource
utilization practices reflected this. In more recent times, many of
the Pacific islands have taken development paths that have posed
serious danger to their long-term sustainability .
However, as is demonstrated by the holding of the Pacific
Conference on the Human Environment as early as 1982, and the
formation then of the South Pacific Environment Programme, the
Pacific islands have already begun to seriously re-examine their
Today, the Pacific islands are on their way to implementing
many of the ideas of sustainable human development. The Pacific
leaders of have given their blessing to the ideas of sustainable
human development as seen in the Suva Declaration, as well as in
the two Port Vila Declarations. Moreover, specific action has
already started that would make Pacific islands development more
sustainable in the future.
However, there are areas that have not been included in the
Suva Declaration that need attention, and some of the identified
areas need greater prioritization. These include the need to
closely monitor international developments, both of economic and
environmental nature; the need to pay additional attention to human
resource development, with particular emphasis on distance
education, and the need to support regional and national capacity
building in the areas of sustainable human development.
Further, greater attention is needed in agricultural
development. Since rural activities support the bulk of the Pacific
islands populations, governments need to pay more attention to the
improvement of agricultural productivity, increasing local
production of food, and to the promotion of agroforestry.
Governments also need to resolve land tenure difficulties because
without proper access to land, there is little hope of providing
employment to the rapidly increasing rural populations.
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