Future Outlook for the Pacific Island Environment from 1998

Decentralization | Privatization | Political Interference | Positive Government Action | Environmental Trends


Sat communication dish in Samoa 25kbThe satellite communications dish in American Samoa.

The Global Information Economy is a societal revolution based on improved information and communication technologies. Human interaction, trade and commerce is changing in pattern and volume based on satellite and optic fibber transmission of digital data. The cultural, social and economic ramifications of this for the Pacific Islands are only now becoming evident. One of the major constraints of "development" and "governance" in the Pacific Islands is the tyranny of distance. Moving anything, from goods and services to information to and from the scattered Pacific islands has always had a "distance tax" imposed by the sheer expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Modern information technology is at last bringing down this barrier and within the next decade even small Pacific islands will be able to enter the Global Information Economy at prices equivalent to those charged in metropolitan counties. Indeed, if the Pacific island countries do not accelerate their involvement and attention to the Information Economy they may well be left even further behind in terms of social and economic development.

APE has formed an Asia-pacific Information Infrastructure (APII) and initiated a background paper on "Pacific Island Involvement in the Global Information Infrastructure." The paper, due in January 1998, will report on global trends in the information society and present the potential benefits, costs and risks for Pacific Island Countries. This will identify barriers to involvement, both internal and external, and provide recommendations for action.

The initial trial of using information technology for sustainable development was hampered by a number of technical and political problems. The Pacific Sustainable Development Network (SDNP) was founded in 1992 to encourage exchange of information on sustainable development between government bodies, universities, non-governmental organizations, the private sector and individuals in 30 developing countries. The Secretariat for the Pacific Community/Suva was designated as the developing partner of the Pacific Sustainable Development Networking Programme in 1994. It linked the following programs:

  • Equitable and Sustainable Development Human Development Programs.
  • South Pacific Biodiversity Conservation Programme.
  • South Pacific Forestry Development Programme.
  • Programme for Capacity Building for Sustainable Development in the South Pacific: Building on National Environmental Strategies (NEMS).

They conducted national and regional workshops, and maintained the Paktok network. The project prepared two databases, one on experts on sustainable development within the region and one on information services and sources and methods of accessing them. SDNP also funded information studies in Vanuatu and Samoa to assist in the implementation of national Agenda 21 activities. NGOs were supported in providing information to communities. Phase I of this project has finished and Phase II was not funded pending the expected restructuring of information technology in the Pacific islands.

In 1997, The World Bank commissioned a Report on the Pacific Island Knowledge Assessment. A preliminary version is available on Internet.

The Knowledge Assessment project was aimed at getting governments to develop national vision statements and comprehensive strategies to accelerate the development of knowledge economies. The report recommends that the National Vision Statements:

  • "Articulate the social and economic benefits achievable through the development of information infrastructure and knowledge economies.
  • Assert the economic and social benefits of high quality communications at the lowest possible costs, in place of the short term revenues arising from taxation and dividend income from monopoly telecommunications services;
  • deregulate and open the market to new suppliers of information services, information technology and telecommunications;
  • coordinate data collection and information exchange between government departments, agencies and the community;
  • entrench the opinions and aspirations of telecommunications and information technology users in formal decision making processes;
  • ensure training and skills development in government, industry, and the community, through the incorporation of training schemes in technology grant programs and community development initiatives;
  • rapidly deploy computer resources, Internet access and widespread use of IT in all levels of the education system;
  • encourage investment in pilot activities that can deliver immediate, practical outcomes for essential services, and new business and employment opportunities in urban and rural communities;
  • facilitate the adoption of standards for hardware, software, data collection, dissemination and training which will enable and encourage regional and international dialogue and exchange.

Mechanisms to implement the vision and strategy include the establishment of:

  • a national taskforce, led by a small number of government and community leaders to champion the vision statement, accelerate deregulation, and stimulate awareness of the opportunities in government, the public sector, business and the broader community;
  • a whole of government committee of information officers to monitor departmental initiatives to avoid duplication, develop and enforce standards and encourage "world best practice";
  • an information technology and telecommunications user group to provide a forum for ideas, exchange and feedback to service providers throughout government, business and the community;
  • a government wide Intranet that enables efficient transfer of essential information and encourages a 'whole of government' approach to economic and social issues.

In September of 1997, the South Pacific Organizations Coordinating Committee (SPOCC) met in Rarotonga to establish a Working Group on Information Sector Issues. All SPOCC agencies are expected to emphasize information economy for the long term benefit of the Pacific in 1998. The Forum Secretariat is working with the World Bank's Pacific Islands Knowledge Assessment exercise and the APE Asia-Pacific Information Infrastructure process (Slatyer, Deputy Secretary General Forum Secretariat October 1997).

The Working Group will develop objectives, strategies, programs and projects to manage information issues of a regional character in support of sustainable development of SPOCC member countries and territories. "Information Issues" are defined as "any issues that will support members' capacity to take advantage of information technology developments to enhance the well being of their people as follows:

  • education issues (at all levels);
  • telecommunications policy issues (such as regulatory environment governing service providers and pricing);
  • public sector reform issues, investigating any restraints to sound policy development at a national level;
  • communications infrastructure issues (such as satellite and cable availability);
  • tax policy issues (such as tariffs on information equipment);
  • equity issues (including gender equity);
  • small business issues (such as marketing and cash transference);
  • copyright and privacy issues; and
  • information technology issues (e.g. Standards).

The Working Group will prepare a draft report by 31 January 1998 and a final report by 30 March 1998 that will take into account comments from SPOCC Heads and other interested organizations - such as ESCAP. The conclusions will be included in the Regional Strategy and submitted to policy meetings for the 1998 FEMM.

Internet and Email may serve to ease the existing communications problem between countries and regional organizations, between countries and countries, and between regional organizations. Countries are not obliged to tell regional organizations about research completed by themselves or outside workers, nor pass along statistical information on resource use. But the ease of communication via email greatly assists horizontal information exchange over any distance. Almost all regional organizations and many of the aid organizations and government ministries have internet connectivity of some kind.

A network of low orbit satellites are already being launched with the express objective of facilitating world wide communication. One company (backed by Bill Gates of Microsoft) expects to have 840 low orbit satellites for Internet connectivity anywhere in the world at low cost. Within a decade this satellite network will make it possible for anyone to go on line from any place on earth at the same basic cost, using a relatively inexpensive (even hand-held) communication modem. [[note: this effort was defeated by a telco-backed political attack on Microsoft in the United States]].


The austere economic climate of the late 1980's and early 1990’s forced Australia and New Zealand into a period of decentralization of authority and privatization of government assets. Their success in cutting public debt and gaining liquidity by the sale of assets affirmed this procedure as defining "good governance." Their enthusiasm for these policies were reflected in the April 1997 review of Australia’s Overseas Aid Programme entitled "One Clear Objective: poverty reduction through sustainable development" (The Simmons Report). The report explicitly stated the need to lessen Pacific island country dependence on aid through "good governance."

Good governance is "predictable, open and enlightened policy-making…; an executive arm of government accountable for its actions; and a strong civil society participating in public affairs; and all behaving under the rule of law."

World Bank 1994

Australian/New Zealand good governance, closely parallels World Bank and Asian Development Bank policy;

  • "right-sizing" (e.g. cutting back of government jobs),
  • stimulation and deregulation of private sector development,
  • privatization of government assets,
  • open information systems
  • and decentralization (letting local governments and communities have their say).

The Simmons Report pointed out "Australia should not resile from reducing aid funds where there is little commitment to good governance or essential economic and resource management reforms and where efforts to build capacity and support reform have been ineffective."

Action Plan from the July 1997 Forum Economic Ministers Meeting in Cairns, Australia replied:

"We agreed that private sector development is central to ensuring sustained economic growth, and that governments should provide a policy environment to encourage this."

Their plan of action for economic reform included:.

  1. Developing national economic reform strategies
  2. "We will develop these strategies in consultation with community groups and the private sector."
  3. Invite private sectors to identify all issues affecting business competitiveness that can be addressed by Government policy reform and recommend positive steps to improve the economic environment.
  4. Promote principles of best practice for public accountability based on concepts of openness with Government information and public scrutiny of the performance of Governments and public officials.
  5. Pursue open, liberal and transparent investment policies.
  6. Work towards a common goal of free and open trade and investment.
  7. Implement domestic measures consistent with WTO and APE principles and obligations.

No mention was made, in their action plan, of sustainability or environmental considerations. There is little doubt that the drive to promote private enterprise will conflict with environmental protection. At the Twenty-eighth South Pacific Forum meeting in Rarotonga in September 1997, the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands presented the Forum theme as "Reform, Human Values and Togetherness." Reforms, he said, must be holistic to achieve sustainable development, going beyond conventional economic dimensions to embrace Pacific cultural values and norms. The meeting agreed to the Action Plan of the Economic Ministers, stressing the regional target of developing tourism as important to the Forum Island Countries.

Australia and New Zealand Aid, the Asian Development Bank, and the World Bank will continue to increase their influence on the future trends of Pacific Island Governments. As financial conditions have degraded over the past decade, Pacific Island countries were forced into a position of compliance with bank policy and donor suggestions on what constitutes good leadership. Some of the aid and loan recipients privately feel that these agencies are doing exactly what they claim is wrong; giving top down suggestions without letting the recipients have any real choice. Kiribati, for example, is not happy about the idea of privatizing its water supply - one of the conditions of the ADB’s loan to renovate the water supply system. They point to the government’s legal and moral responsibility to provide water to the public - even if the people can’t pay for it. Although they have accepted the ADB’s loan conditions, the government has been very slow to move forward with privatization action (Kiribati Case Study 1997).

A more politically direct example is the Vanuatu Comprehensive Reform Programme (CRP). Faced with a decade of stagnant economy and mounting public debt, Vanuatu co-operated with the AusAID Comprehensive Reform Programme document and have negotiated a loan with ADB to achieve various stages of the project. The sweeping reforms include downsizing of the government departments, greater accountability for financial management, a programme oriented budget, decentralization of authority, a priority towards sustainable use of natural resources, and a wide-ranging set of reforms aimed at weakening political interference with government departments and parliament’s policy making functions.

The Vanuatu government supports the programme because of what is called a "consultative mechanism"; if they implement it, the donors agree to assist with funding. The programme is, however, not going smoothly. In October 1997, the Council of Ministers approved increases to MP allowances by more than US$2 million a year at the same time the government was deciding on who would get the axe during the planned 10% reduction of government jobs (Trading Post Vanuatu 287, October 11, 1997).

The Japanese Economic Development Summit, held in October of 1997, concluded that Tourism, Private Enterprise Development, and Offshore Fishing were key economic opportunities for the Pacific island nations. Japan is rapidly expanding its influence into the region as Co-operative Development Assistance. In contrast to New Zealand and Australian Aid, Japan has a non-interference policy with "governance" issues. Its aid remains tied to various economic strings. Construction projects funded by Japan, for example, are generally done by Japanese companies. In addition, Japan seeks to strengthen its political position on fishing rights, deep sea mineral rights, and UN votes.

In general, Japan seems more sensitive to the political needs of the Pacific island countries. It is less likely to criticize or cause existing political leaders to lose face. The public release of the 93 page Australian foreign affairs and treasure staff briefing (AUSTEC) prior to the Forum Economic Ministers’ Meeting in July 1997 could never have happened in Japan. The document contained flippant and offensive statements about Pacific leaders. The October meeting in Japan had a quite different, and more friendly tone. Japan made it clear that as the United States and the United Kingdom withdraw from Pacific Aid, Japan is willing and able to fill the gap. Perhaps partly in response to this, Great Britain has again rejoined the SPC.


Many countries in the sub-region are involved in privatization of utilities as one of the current ingredients for good governance. The Marshall Islands 1990 feasibility study on privatization recommended selling the government power utility. The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam are both seeking to sell their power companies. In Fiji, the Public Enterprise Bill was passed in 1997, strongly supporting private sector investment in various public utilities. Samoa is looking at privatization with the help of an ADB funded study.

The financial crisis in the Cook Islands, which became acute in the beginning of 1996, lead to a decision to decentralize and privatize. The New Zealand Overseas Development Administration and the ADB worked in concert to restructure the government and the economy. They identified five priorities:

  1. Repayment of existing debt
  2. Restoration of liquidity
  3. Privatization and sale of government assets
  4. Growth of the economy and;
  5. Establishment of social equity reserve funds.

Selling public assets to pay off existing loans may have pulled New Zealand and Australia out of the economic doldrums, but the same medicine might do little to help Pacific island governments. Many Australians and New Zealanders feel the massive profiteering of the new foreign owners will not be a long-term benefit to the countries. In New Zealand, for example, the American owned Telecom communication network made a tidy $750 million profit from its 3 million New Zealand customers in 1996. The profits from the New Zealand power utilities also head to America. Some New Zealand Regional Councils sold their waste disposal and Water Utilities to overseas companies. They have encouraged massive real-estate deals with overseas investors - especially in Asia. Even the major New Zealand banks were sold to owners in the United Kingdom (along with the mortgages for New Zealand businesses, homes and land).

Assets are, by definition, a way to make money and if the owners are overseas, one must expect the profits to leak out of the country. The proponents of privatization assume the government will use the cash from the sales to restructure itself in a more financial favorable position, develop its various resources, and improve investment portfolios. New Zealand and Australia seem to have succeeded at this, but can the small, resource and management poor governments of the Pacific islands do it as well?

The Cook Island sale of its power utility may offer a forecast of the long-term outcome of a privatization policy in the Pacific Islands. The bids for the Cook Island power utility were lower than expected and the prospective buyers plan to raise the cost of electricity from day one.

Political Interference with Sustainability

The problem of political interference with government bureaucratic functions and parliamentary policy making process will be the most difficult problem for the island governments in the future as it has been to date. The key to solving this may well be decentralization of power to regional and village level councils. This does not remove the basic structure of "Big Man" or "Chief" politics but broadens the base towards a community level, while reducing the potential for massive centralized irresponsibility.

Bartholomew Ulafa’alu, the new Solomon Island Prime Minister, has strong leanings towards decentralization of power and community participation. He founded Solomon Island Farmers, a national farmers co-operative, and set up his own Liberal Party. His election in August 1997 was said to be a result of grass-roots anger over the former government’s corruption and unsustainable policies on logging and fishing issues. The attempt of the former government to abolish provincial governments (which was declared unconstitutional in February of 1997) was clearly not a politically wise move in an election year, and underscores the sub-region’s growing insistence on decentralization of authority.

The new Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea was elected on the platform of reducing politicization of the government ministries and the army, and establishing effective measures against corruption. In the face of the present drought and onset of starvation and disastrous fires, the image of the National government officials spending the next year investigating and arguing about graft and corruption is less than reassuring. On the other hand, it points to the increasing role of the Provincial governments and community resilience. If they don’t look after their own survival needs, they won’t survive.

Forming working partnerships with the community is a logical way to reduce costs, harmonize wasteful policy conflict, gain compliance on environmental and food security programs, and improve environmental conditions. Many governments realize the need for improving their interactions with the public and are also aware that participatory research and management is the best way to accomplish this.

Participatory Integrated Planning, in one form or another, is seen as a key methodology for both decentralization of authority and reduction of politicalization of government departments. It is, perhaps, the only effective way to provide any governance throughout the scattered rural island populations. National planners agree these techniques are valuable but are not sure how they will be put into practice. How will they link up with National Planning Agencies whose personnel are traditionally schooled in the top-down approach? There has been a tendency for the proponents of Participatory programs to exclude key government agencies, especially those with established top-down approaches.

Positive government actions in the Pacific islands

Awareness and capacity building are pre-requisites for action. In the past twenty years there have been significant gains in governmental and community awareness of environmental issues throughout the region and a vast increase in basic information. National Environment Management Strategies prepared by the Pacific island governments and the considerable body of literature and information gathered provides an important foundation for future action.

Completed National Environmental Management Strategies

Country Environment Strategy Date
Cook Islands Cabinet endorsed NEMS  
Federated States of Micronesia Cabinet endorsed NEMS 1993
Fiji NEMS 1993
Kiribati Draft NEMS  
Marshall Islands Cabinet endorsed NEMS 1993
Nauru NEMS  
Niue Draft NEMS  
Palau Comprehensive Conservation Strategy  
Papua New Guinea Strategic Plan  
Solomon Islands Cabinet Endorsed NEMS 1993
Tokelau NEMS  
Tonga Cabinet endorsed EMP (2) 1990 &1993
Tuvalu NEMS  
Vanuatu National Conservation Strategy  
Samoa Cabinet endorsed NEMS 1993

Although dedicated environmental funding and action has been notably absent from the Pacific island nations, there have been significant environmental successes. Most of these have been reactive - such as saying no to allowing countries to use Oceania as a dumping ground for hazardous wastes and saying no to long drift nets for open ocean fishing. When clear threats were made to the environment, the island governments rallied quickly to protect their islands and marine areas. When the threats were not clear, governments generally acted slowly or not at all.

Many potential threats simply did not materialize because the governments denied permission for the projects. In May of 1995, for example, a Japanese company applied for permission to harvest whales in Tongan waters. The Tongan Government quickly and quietly rejected the proposal.

While not always proceeding according to outsider's expectations, external projects that threaten the sustainability of Pacific islands don't often get through the strongly conservative government structures. When they do, they frequently meet with crushing frustrations on the community level.

Future environmental trends

Environmental trends in the Pacific islands are pressured by:

  • population growth,
  • urban drift,
  • aid dependency,
  • mismanagement of resources

Population Growth

Population growth rates are declining in some Pacific Island countries, although they are still high in the Marshall Islands (4.2%), Northern Mariana Islands (5.6%), and American Samoa (3.7%)(PC 1997). Fiji's low growth rate of -0.8% over the last decade is the result of large scale emigration of Indians after the 1987 military coup. The population decreased in Niue and Tokelau as people emigrated to New Zealand. The average population growth rate for the Pacific islands was 2.2% per year. For Polynesia it was 1.3%, again, the natural fertility being compensated by emigration. Tonga, for example, had a population growth rate of 0.3% but a total fertility rate of 4.2 (SPC 1997).


Most Pacific islands appear to be sparsely populated, especially compared to islands in other parts of the world. A high percentage of land, however, is not habitable being either too rugged and steep sloped, too arid, too small, or lacking water. Much of Melanesia is so rugged nobody can live there. On atolls, the smaller islands have no water and become flooded during storms. In Fiji, the average population density was 39 people per square kilometer in 1986 but if calculated on the basis of arable land, the density would be 170 per km2. (Fiji UNCED report 1992). By 1996, this increased again to 266 persons per square kilometer. Figure 5 compares population densities for Oceania based on total land and agricultural land.

Numbers of people per square kilometer of land and arable land (Ahmed-Michaux 1994 & SPC 1997).

A growing proportion of young people, unable to find employment, and lacking vocational and technical skills, require an ever increasing proportion of government funds for social relief. These expenses are not usually redeemable and use funds that might otherwise stimulate economic development. Thus, infrastructure development becomes more dependent on foreign aid and current government revenue no longer meets basic recurrent costs in most of the smaller countries.


Urbanization reflects the cultural differences of the Pacific sub-region. Melanesians are the least migratory people and have remained in their village settings with their one-talks. There is some movement to urban centers by younger people for education or employment, but they seldom go overseas and often return to their villages. More than 85% of the people in PNG, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu live in rural communities, but this situation is changing as more young people migrate to the cities.


Percentages of people living in urban environments 1950, 1990 and 1996 (World Resources Institute 1994 SPC 1997).

The other people of the Pacific sub-region move around extensively. There is a steady migration from rural areas to urban centers and overseas. People move from rural villages for a variety of reasons.

As the population grows, there is simply no more land available and young people are pushed to the urban areas looking for work. People are pulled to cities to get better education for their children or simply to find a more exciting life.

The growth of urban areas has been two to three times that of the overall population growth. Usually people move to the national and provincial capitals. In PNG, Port Moresby and Lae are the fastest growing cities. Suva, Port Vila and Honiara are growing at rates exceeding 6% a year. On the capital islands of atoll nations, population density rivals that of Hong Kong. On Ebeye island in the Marshall Islands, population density reaches 23,200 per square kilometer.

The flood of unskilled and poorly educated people into already crowded and financially challenged urban centers results in a wide range of economic, social, and environmental problems. Governments simply can't keep up with the demand for facilities and services in these areas. In the crowded urban environments, life expectancies drop, suicides increase, diseases spread rapidly, and crime plagues everyone. Tensions, child and wife abuse, increase because of higher costs of living, low wages, high unemployment, scarce water, limited living space with many people living in the same room, few toilets, solid wastes, smells, air pollution, noise pollution, and fatigued medical facilities.

Governments have not been able to devise adequate strategies to deal with urban growth. Government efforts to develop rural areas and decentralize authority has had very little impact. The more complex issues of land, housing, sewage, education, health services, law and order and public investment in the poorer sections of the expanding cities have simply been ignored.

Urban development can be a powerful asset to economic and social development. The young unemployed people squatting in shanty towns around Suva, Port Vila, Honiara, Port Moresby, Nuku'alofa and Ebeye are regarded as a problem by wealthy political leaders yet they are the labor force needed to foster economic development and commerce. Increased investment in the management of urban areas is more urgent, and would provide higher returns, than investments in rural areas. Continued neglect will result in increasing public health costs, poor living conditions, break down of law and order, and eventually severe political retribution. This contrasts with the returns available on investments in releasing the social and physical energy of urban communities by renovation and education (Hughes 1996).

Urbanization increases local population problems, but helps stabilize populations on the smaller islands. Populations in some of the smaller islands are decreasing despite continued high natural birth rates. In Tonga, for example, the population of the Ha'apai group declined 40% between 1976 and 1986. Over the last decade, the population of the Lau island group in Fiji dropped 14% while the city populations leapt by 29%.


Polynesian and Micronesian growth rates are often nearly balanced by exporting people to Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Although Tonga’s women bear 4 to 5 children, the population of Tonga has not changed significantly in the past twenty years. About one third of all Tongans now live outside of Tonga (IDEC 1990). Samoa has a natural growth rate of about 2%, a decline from 6.9% in 1982. Emigration lowers the net growth rate to only 0.6% (SOE Western Samoa 1993).

For people living in small island countries with formal ties to larger countries emigration is uncomplicated. More than 65% of all American Samoans live in the continental United States. Niue, with a birth rate of 3.5% has a negative growth rate. In 1991, there were 14,556 Niue people living in New Zealand and 2,443 living in Niue. The Cook Islands also has a negative growth rate because of emigration. There are 18,500 people in the Cook Islands and more than 20,000 Cook Islanders in New Zealand (Cook Islands 1993).

Emigration does not solve the problems faced by the people who leave their homelands. 98% of the Pacific islanders in New Zealand, for example, live in urban centers (Statistics New Zealand 1993). They earn more money than they could in their home countries and have more possessions, but costs of living are higher. Although schooling opportunities for their children are better, the incidence of crime, drug abuse, and teenage gangs often results in poor scholastic achievement.

Emigration causes problems for the host countries. The new people immediately begin using community resources although it may be some time before they begin to contribute to the tax base. They stress already crowded schools and hospitals, add to unemployment rolls, and fuel social conflict. The numbers of people flowing from rural undeveloped countries into metropolitan countries is causing concern in Australia, New Zealand and the United States. In 1993/94, 15,587 immigrants doubled New Zealand's natural growth rate from 0.75% to 1.4% per year. Most countries are tightening up immigration rules in an effort to cut down this flow. New Zealand lowered the age of dependants allowed entry with their parents in 1995. In response, Samoan officials issued fake birth certificates to young people who were really too old to come in as dependants.

Immigration has become a political weapon in New Zealand and Australia. Winston Peters in New Zealand (New Zealand First Party) and Pauline Hanson in Australia have ignited a serious nationalistic anti-immigration controversy - primarily aimed at Asians. This could easily have an unhappy outcome for Pacific island countries.

The number of islanders out of their country at any given moment far exceeds the number who have permanently migrated. Most countries allow students and adults to enter for six months or a year. There is a constantly refreshed population of islanders in this category. As immigration barriers close off the safety valve for excess population, and curtail casual visits, the transitory fund of islanders will return home and, in a matter of months, could drastically increase the population of unemployed people.

Melanesians, and the people of island countries (such as Tuvalu and Kiribati) with no formal immigration ties to other countries emigrate less than Polynesians and Micronesians and have no relief valve for their rapidly growing populations.

Limits to growth

Although population issues do increase social and environmental problems, the Pacific island countries are, compared to other parts of the world, not overpopulated. They are overpopulated only in the sense that they are unsustainable because their technology and philosophy is destructive to the living systems. Almost all of the countries in the Region could support a larger population if they managed their land and marine resources wisely. As it is, only Australia and New Zealand grow enough food to sustain their populations. All of the small island nations rely on massive imports of food products.

Since most of the island nations have so few marketable resources, imports vastly exceed exports. Even the Melanesian countries - with more substantial natural resources - buy far more than they sell and rely heavily on imported food for survival. The increasing cost of foods in most island countries indicates the population is exceeding the limits imposed by the style of agricultural activity. Where a country grows its own food, price increases are generally less than when food has to be imported.

Percentage of imports paid for by exports (World Resources Institute 1994.


Trends in ecosystems

Despite the multitude of strategies and plans, there were few gains towards ecosystem sustainability.

  • nearshore fisheries and ecosystems continue to degrade;
  • water supplies are as polluted as ever;
  • sewage is still untreated in most areas, and sanitation poor;
  • populations continue to increase;
  • nutritional problems from consuming an unbalanced diet of imported foods continue to weaken the people and create expensive health problems even where adequate, nourishing local foods are abundant;
  • forests are still being cut down faster than they can regrow;
  • mines are still polluting the rivers and coastal areas;
  • litter accumulates in the seas and everywhere on shorelines;
  • pesticide and herbicide use is increasing;
  • erosion problems are escalating;
  • alien plants and animals displace native species and biodiversity is still spiraling downward;
  • sea levels are rising and freak weather is commonplace.
  • Poverty is increasing, disparities in wealth are as evident as ever, and
  • there are more unemployed youth looking for something to do every day.

Excellent environmental legislation was been written but has not been enacted and existing environmental legislation was almost never enforced. Environmental agencies were set up but these generally had few people, practically no operational funds, no operational mandates other than to act as an advisory agency to other line ministries that seldom, if ever, asked for advice.

Development policy expanded to include the concept of sustainability, but the actual projects described in modern Development Plans don't seem to have changed very much. The plans don't make it clear how the same efforts, conducted by the same people or by foreign interests, to harvest fish, timber, minerals, and to develop commercial agriculture will stop harming the environment and become sustainable.