Dots on the world map – they are coral atolls and volcanic islands spread across a vast swath of the Pacific Ocean with names as exotic as their turquoise water, white sand and tropical foliage.
Twelve Pacific Island countries are members of the World Bank. Between them they are home to about 11 million people, much less than one percent of the global population.
One of them, Kiribati, consists of 33 atolls and coral islets, spread across an area larger than India, but with a land mass smaller than New Delhi. With less than 10,000 inhabitants, Tuvalu is the World Bank’s smallest member country.
Despite such remote and tiny landscapes, the Pacific Island countries – including Fiji, Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, the Federated States of Micronesia and Timor-Leste – represent far more than meets the eye.
Pacific Island small states (PSS)
I see it every time I come back to Honiara, Solomon Island’s bustling capital, soon after I arrive. Young people on the streets, wandering around in groups or by themselves with nothing to do. It’s the same thing my local friends and colleagues mention. Solomon Islanders also ask, “What kind of future lies ahead for our kids?”
Solomon Islands face new economic challenges and a rapidly expanding, youthful population. Seven out of 10 Solomon Islanders are under the age of 29.
It is no exaggeration. Today, around 800 million people go to bed hungry every night. By 2050, we will need to produce at least 50% more food to feed a population on track to reach nine billion.
That’s a daunting challenge for our food systems, our planet, and our generation.
If we keep eating our planet, what will be left for our children and ourselves in the future? In other words, how will we nutritiously feed nine billion by 2050 in the face of environmental threats?
By Francis Ghesquiere and Olivier Mahul
This week, the Resilience Dialogue, bringing together representatives from developing countries, donor agencies and multilateral development banks, will focus on financing to build resilience to natural disasters.
There is growing recognition that resilience is critical to preserving hard won development gains. The share of development assistance supporting resilience has grown dramatically in recent years. New instruments have emerged in particular to help client countries deal with the economic shock of natural disasters. In this context, an important question is which financial instruments best serve the needs of vulnerable countries? Only by customizing instruments and tools to the unique circumstances of our clients, will we maximize development return on investments. Clearly, low-income countries with limited capacity may not be able to use financial instruments the same way middle-income countries can. Small island developing states subject to financial shocks where loss can exceed their annual GDP face vastly different challenges than large middle-income countries trying to smooth public expenditures over time or safeguard low-income populations against disasters.
In the weeks running up to the 3rd International Conference on Small Island Developing States, out of frustration and a sense that they must look after themselves, a new alliance was born: the Coalition of Atoll Nations on Climate Change. Or, as President Tong of Kiribati called it, the "alliance of the sinking". The coalition comprising Tuvalu, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Maldives, Cook Islands, and Tokelau, with Micronesia associated as part of their territory, is atoll territory.
These nations have tried everything to bring their situations to the climate negotiators' and development organizations' attention and have their special situation recognized. With just 15 months until the Paris climate negotiations, they seek in a group to be able to support each other and to make themselves heard.
Running from event to event to partnership dialogue here in the beautiful island of Upolu, Samoa, while listening to delegates to the 3rd annual Small Island Developing States Conference, two things ring loud and true: Small islands need ocean-based economic growth to diversify their economies, attract investment, grow their GDP, increase jobs, and end pockets of extreme poverty. And strong ocean-based economies need healthy oceans.
Great ocean states know this. They know that they cannot afford the boom and bust cycle that emerges as natural capital is liquidated and the ocean emptied and trashed. But small islands cannot forsake growth in the name of conserving natural resources either. We can fish the oceans empty; but we mustn’t. The future of growth, jobs, resilience all depend on the sustainable management of the resources of the ocean. For small islands, blue growth is critical; done smartly, blue collapse is avoidable.
On Sunday in Apia, the capital of Samoa, I saw the results of the World Bank Group’s work with coastal communities that were devastated by the 2009 tsunami and by Cyclone Evan in 2012. Working with the Samoan government and partners, we built coastal roads and a new system of access roads that leads into the hills away from the seashore. Many families rebuilt their homes in the hills, and the new road system helps bind those new households together as well as providing safe escape routes should a tsunami or major storm hit the coast again.
The hard infrastructure construction is interesting; the community conversations about next steps for protecting the coastlines are even more so. The government is launching a series of community consultations that will bring together village mayors, women leaders, government agencies, and NGOs to decide how best to climate-proof their coastlines. The communities are set to decide if sea walls or mangrove plantations will best protect their land and livelihood.
I’m in Apia with a team from across the IFC and the World Bank to represent the World Bank Group at the 3rd UN Conference for Small Island Developing States and took the opportunity to learn more about climate and disaster risk management at the community level.
For island nations, the small size of their land and their economies comes with a set of unique vulnerabilities that makes climate change a major determinant of their ability to thrive and in some cases even survive.
The risks created by climate change are well known. Regardless of political views, when the majority of respected and leading science institutions say that climate change is happening, I believe that we have a problem.
From a young person’s perspective, I do not want to inherit a world that is torn apart by an issue that could have been minimized if we all took action. I don’t want a world that is destroyed by inaction and pointless bickering. If we continue to do nothing, or not enough, we will all be living in a world that could have been prevented. Inaction will tear our world apart.
A picture can tell a thousand words but the stunning photos we usually associate with the Pacific Islands often overlook the reality for many who live there. Faced with natural hazards such as cyclones, droughts and earthquakes alongside geographical remoteness and isolation, Pacific Island countries, which make up over a third of small island developing states (SIDS), are some of the most vulnerable nations in the world.
Already this year the Pacific region has been hit by two major disasters; Tropical Cyclone Ian in Tonga in January, followed by flash flooding in Solomon Islands in April. Both disasters had devastating impacts on the economy and livelihoods of local communities. Situated within the cyclone belt and Pacific Ring of Fire, earthquakes, tsunamis and cyclones are frequent. Around 41 tropical cyclones occur each year across the region as well as numerous earthquakes and floods.
The United Nations has declared 2014 as the International Year of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), in recognition of the contributions this group of countries has made to the world, and to raise awareness of the development challenges they confront – including those related to climate change and the need to create high-quality jobs for their citizens.
The Third International Conference on SIDS in September in Apia, Samoa will be the highlight event. The World Bank Group is helping shape the debate on both climate and jobs with a delegation led by Rachel Kyte, the Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change, and with senior-level participation in the conference’s Private Sector Forum.
Is the global jobs agenda relevant to small islands states?
Tackling the challenges related to the jobs agenda in large and middle-income countries could be seen as the most significant issue for the Bank Group’s new Trade and Competitiveness Global Practice, of which I’m a member. Yet the Minister of Finance of Seychelles recently challenged my thinking on this.
At the June 13 joint World Bank Group-United Nations' High-Level Dialogue on Advancing Sustainable Development in SIDS (which precedes the September conference on SIDS), the presentation by Pierre Laporte, the Minister of Finance, Trade and Investment of Seychelles – who is also the chair of the Small States Forum – led to a lively discussion on various job-creation and growth models that the SIDS countries may want to pursue.
The sentiment among SIDS leaders was that one-size-fits-all solutions will not do when it comes to jobs and growth. Yes, they do want to continue to address the tough fiscal challenges they face, but they want to tackle them while creating job opportunities for their citizens.
Decades of reforms have not helped SIDS grow at a rate similar to the rest of the world: On average, their pace of job creation is about half the global rate. The lack of opportunities felt by many generations resulted in a heavy “brain drain” that exceeds the level seen in other developing countries.
It is becoming very clear that business as usual in SIDS will not do. Creative solutions need to be found now.
Back in March 2014, I had the opportunity to be part of a World Bank team supporting the Tongan government to develop a reconstruction policy after Tropical Cyclone Ian hit earlier this year. To implement the policy, the Ministry of Infrastructure led a series of surveys to inform housing reconstruction. This post, which does not intend to be scientific or exhaustive, is to share some of the key lessons I learned from this experience.
Damage assessments are routine in the aftermath of disasters, but they differ depending on their objectives (Hallegatte, 2012 - pdf). A rapid survey in the wake of a disaster event could help to estimate grossly the direct human and economic losses and damages. This type of survey is best to capture the amplitude and the severity of the disaster. However, such survey could present some flaws, often because the survey will be conducted in a very short time frame with minimal design. On the other hand, a survey conducted a few months after the event is best to understand better the context of the disaster. It also allows a better design and better preparation. But, equally, such survey could include biases. For instance, the time lag between the event and the survey itself could create some level of challenges. Most likely, people would have started to fix their houses or have moved away from the affected area, and that will add a layer of complexity to the survey.
In last week’s post, I asked whether Governance and Public Sector Management (GPSM) projects are having much large scale impact. It is tempting to reduce this to the question of why don’t development projects which focus on this work more often (although their track record is perhaps not as limited as some reviews of donor assistance might suggest). From this starting point, recent thinking suggests that donor rigidity and project designs which fix the visible form without improving the underlying public management function are the problem.
The remedy, as set out most prominently in “Problem Driven Iterative Adaptation” and in the World Bank’s own Public Sector Management Approach, suggests that we should focus on the de facto rather than the de jure and adapt the nature of our support as project implementation unrolls. Problem-driven iterative adaptation (PDIA) approaches are referred to in recent reforms of Ministries of Finance in the Caribbean and reform approaches in Mozambique and in Burundi. Bank interventions in Sierra Leone and in Punjab have been cited as examples of this approach in practice.
In the morning of January 11, 2014, after an early warning from the Department of Meteorology and the National Disaster Management Office on the upcoming category 5 tropical cyclone Ian, power and radio transmission went off on the Island of Ha’apai, one of the most populated among the 150 islands of the Tongan archipelago in the South Pacific.
The Pacific Islands are inherently prone to hazards due to their geographic location and small size. Each year Pacific Island countries experience damage and loss caused by natural disasters estimated at an average $284 million, or 1.7% of regional GDP (World Bank 2013). In the coming decades, climate change is expected to make things worse through sea level rise and more intense cyclones.