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.
Those unfamiliar with the fast growing emerging economies of East Asia are likely to think that governments in these countries let market forces and capitalism roam free, red in tooth and claw. That was certainly my impression before coming to work in the region, and generally that held at the outset of our work by the group of us that wrote a new World Bank report “East Asia Pacific At Work: Employment, Enterprise and Wellbeing” .
The report shows just how wrong we were. We could be forgiven this impression—many of us had come from assignments in Latin America and the Caribbean or in Europe and Central Asia, where the distortions and rigidities from labor regulation and poorly designed social protection are rife, and where policy makers cast envious looks at the stellar and sustained employment outcomes in East Asia.
Well, it turns out that although they came relatively late to labor regulation and social protection, many governments in the region have entered this arena with gusto. We were surprised to find that, going just by what is written in their labor codes, the average level of employment protection in East Asia is actually higher than the OECD average.
- Social Development
- Law and Regulation
- Labor and Social Protection
- Financial Sector
- East Asia and Pacific
- Solomon Islands
- Papua New Guinea
- Micronesia, Federated States of
- Marshall Islands
- Lao People's Democratic Republic
- Korea, Republic of
|The ocean represents transport, food, culture and livelihoods for people of the Pacific.|
A few years ago in Papua New Guinea on a holiday I was lucky enough to spend a day with a fisherman who took me out on his dugout canoe. For hours we slowly skimmed along the surface of the ocean, the clear water providing a wonderful lens to the world below teeming with life. Fish, starfish, coral, eels, plants—a world beyond my wildest imagination.
He pointed out the plants he ate and others he used as traditional medicine. He showed me innocuous-looking creatures that would spell certain death. He showed me the craggy hiding hole of the tail-less crocodile that was the lead character in village folklore. He showed me the fish he caught that fed his family and provided him with an income and how his father had taught him to catch them, like he too had taught his children.
In South Tarawa, life takes place along a road.
It is Kiribati’s capital and main atoll, made up of several small islands connected by a string of causeways. The atoll is about three meters above sea level—roughly the height of a bus—and has an average width of just 450 meters.
It is also one of the most densely populated places in the Pacific: this narrow stretch of land encompasses about half of the country’s population of 110,000 people.
Just one road runs through it all, connecting Betio in the west to Bonriki in the east. People live beside it, it takes people from village to village, to schools and hospitals, people sell their goods by the roadside, and the flow of vehicles and people is constant.
As a junior member of the team who produced the forthcoming East Asia and Pacific companion to the World Development Report 2012 “Toward Gender Equality in East Asia and the Pacific”, I was excited to present its findings in the Pacific. After spending months reading, writing, reviewing and revising our findings and content, I had a plethora of questions waiting to be answered about the impact of our work: How would our audience receive it? Will our findings, based on painstakingly collected data and research, be adapted to the reality of gender and development in their country? Will they be able to use these reports to continue working toward gender equality in all aspects of life? Will our reports help people, namely women, lead more productive and fulfilling lives?
Last month I went to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Fiji with the rest of the team to share and discuss our findings with members of government, the media, civil society, students and our donor partners.
|Rainfall is essential to recharge the freshwater lens that lies beneath coral atolls in Kiribati. Without it, the i-Kiribati people would not be able to grow plants and crops vital to their livelihood.|
Freshwater can be extremely scarce in the Republic of Kiribati, home to over 100,000 people scattered across 22 islands in the Central Pacific. Each year after a long dry season, significant rainfall is generally expected to arrive during November or December. Yet over the last few months only a tiny amount of rain has fallen. The islands are dry.
This is consistent with forecasts that predict La Niña conditions will result in below normal rainfall during the 2010-11 wet season across the Gilbert Islands of Kiribati.
When it comes to climate change, many believe the world's poorest people in developing countries will be affected the worst. A "micro-documentary" contest hosted by the World Bank's Social Development Department challenged filmmakers from around the world to highlight the social aspects of climate change.
Several of the contest entries focused on countries and peoples in the East Asia and Pacific, including the third-place film about one of the last remaining peat swamp forests in Aceh, Indonesia.
After the jump, watch another film depicting the climate crisis in the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati.