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Planning for Sustainable Development in the Pacific Islands

Rajesh Chandra
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 equity.

2. South Pacific Islands: smallness, isolation, dependence, and vulnerability

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.

(a) Smallness

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 Islands.

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).

(b) Isolation

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 manufacturing.

(c) Dependence

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 Islands

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, 1994b).

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, 1994).

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 priorities.

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 human development.

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:

  • Improved rural and subsistence productivity;
  • Promotion of participatory and community-based development;
  • Improved access to land;
  • Expanded employment opportunities for rural/subsistence sectors;
  • Reduction in spatial inequalities, particularly urban-rural disparities;
  • 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.
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 urbanization.

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 resource development.

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 identified below.

(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 Pacific.

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.

There is 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:

"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."
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.

(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 programme.

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 regular studies.

(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 education.

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 deserves assistance.

(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 advantage.

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 internationally.

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 electronic networks.

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 Planning

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 extremely low.

(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 national parks.

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, 1987:49).

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 projects.

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 Strategies.

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 also available.

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 development.

(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.

(c) Biodiversity

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 development network.

(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 development.

(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 been used.

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 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.

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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