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.
Last month I was interviewing participants in the World Bank’s Urban Youth Employment Project in Port Moresby, talking about the challenges that PNG’s young people face in finding work.
One issue that came up repeatedly was mobility – or the lack of it: the basic ability to travel to and from the workplace. It is no secret that parts of Port Moresby are dangerous and crime is high. There are regular stories of carjacking but public transport is also a huge risk – an issue which disproportionately affects workers coming from poorer parts of the city.
The HR Manager told me casually how she was stabbed at a bus-stop and her billum (bag) stolen; one of the reception staff was stabbed twice on a bus getting home from work. The young woman we were profiling was held up on a bus at gunpoint in the area of Two Mile.
“How you can live and adapt to climate change… How you can together tackle the issue of carbon intensity of Vietnam?” – World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim challenged 22 young Vietnamese environmentalists, including myself, at a roundtable discussion on the impacts of climate change to Vietnam during his visit to the country. Around that time, Vietnam and some neighboring countries were hit by typhoon Rammasun. It could have been a coincidence, but it gave us a sense of urgency and how serious the issue of climate change is.
In my 10 years of working in the World Bank, I have seen remarkable changes around me. In 2004, Emerald Avenue in Ortigas Center, where the old World Bank office was located, started to wind down after 9 PM. Finding a place to buy a midnight snack whenever I did overtime was hard. It was also hard to find a taxi after work.
Today, even at 3 AM, the street is bustling with 24-hour restaurants, coffee shops, and convenience stores, hundreds of BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) employees taking their break, and a line of taxis waiting to bring these new middle class earners home. Living in Ortigas Center today means that I also benefit from these changes.
In 2005, I had the great fortune of being in Indonesia just as its major teacher reform effort was beginning to take off. Indonesia’s parliament had passed a comprehensive law on teachers, along with its ambitious agenda. Its signature program of certification intended to dramatically improve both teacher welfare and quality. Certified teachers would receive a doubling of salary, and certification was to require that teachers hold a four-year degree and demonstrate possession of competencies necessary to provide good quality education.
The key ingredients for major change seemed in place. Good legislation, and an effort led by a dynamic champion who headed a newly established directorate in the Education Ministry, with the specific mandate of improving the quality of teachers and of educational staff.