|The country is often dismissed as the Pacific's failed state, yet conversations with community members and officials reveal clear visions of what a state can provide in terms of services and a role in community life.|
The Gizo airstrip, reportedly built for a visit by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in the 1970s, occupies the entire length of the island of Nusatupe – as a quick look at Google Maps confirms. It is located picturesquely, if ultimately somewhat inconveniently, about two kilometers from the provincial capital island of Gizo. As I was beginning to wonder how I was going to make my way to Gizo, a team from the Government’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock fortunately pulled up in an outboard motorboat.
In December, just three months after my arrival in the Solomon Islands to serve as the World Bank’s country manager, I chose Western Province for my second trip out of Honiara. One of the main goals in my first year on the job is to visit each of the nine provinces to begin gaining some understanding of this small but complex country.
We spent part of one day visiting communities affected by the tsunami in 2007. Our first stop was to Bush's fuel station, which could be reached through a maze of backhoes, graders, and steam rollers succumbing to various stages of rust. Mr. Bush, the owner, however, had no fuel, so we placed our faith in the Ministry's pickup truck, despite its long dead fuel gauge.
Western Province is the largest center of private sector activity in Solomon Islands outside of Honiara. On our second day there, we headed off to Kolambangara Island to visit Kolambangara Forest Products Limited, the only sustainable plantation forestry company in the Solomons and one of the biggest employers in the province. The trip took us past Kennedy Island, where John F. Kennedy was shipwrecked during World War II. We passed a school of small dolphins, flying fish, and frigate birds.
|I chose Western Province for my second trip out of Honiara. One of the main goals in my first year on the job is to visit each of the nine provinces to begin gaining some understanding of this small but complex country.|
With its great beauty, Western Province is also the center of the Solomons tourism industry, which has slowly been regaining ground after a steep drop in arrivals during tensions. Small boutique resorts occupy some of the little islands around Gizo and Marovo Lagoon, one of the largest lagoons in the world. All travel is by boat, and I was comfortably perched on my newly procured life jacket.
The days spent in the outboard boat going from island to island were long, salty, and instructive. The country is often dismissed as the Pacific's failed state, yet conversations with community members and officials revealed clear, and not unreasonable, visions of what a state can provide in terms of services and a role in community life. Systems and institutions exist, although undermined by lack of resources and the years of conflict.
Having an office in the country for the first time will hopefully allow the World Bank to better understand these aspirations and support them through programs like the Rural Development Program (which I plan to write about in a future blog post), along with projects in the areas of energy, health, telecommunications, and justice. Service delivery and economic development in many parts of Solomon Islands where travel takes place largely on the water is a challenge to the imagination. I hope through the new office, which opened in November 2008, we can work with government and donor partners to rise to this challenge.