Photo: Children riding a bicycle in Tuvalu. Credit: UNDP | Silke Von Brockhausen - Photo: 2019

Quarter of Pacific Islanders Living Below ‘Basic Needs Poverty Lines’

By Sean Buchanan

NEW YORK (IDN) – While there has been progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) over the past four years, some vulnerable small island developing states (SIDs), such as those in the Pacific, are losing momentum in the run-up to 2030.

In 2015, the United Nations set out a vision for “people, planet, peace and prosperity” through partnership and solidarity, when it adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. To date, however, many SIDs still face persistent challenges linked to poverty, inequality and climate impacts.

Speaking on behalf of the members of the Pacific Islands Forum at the United Nations’ 10-day High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development which opened on July 9 in New York, Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, Samoa’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, painted a picture of dying corals and increasing numbers of cyclones, flooding and droughts. 

“One catastrophic event is undoing decades of progress, claiming lives, destroying vital infrastructure, homes, biodiversity and adversely affecting food security and the delivery of services and livelihoods”, she said. “Furthermore, our waste generation is outpacing our capacity to manage and impacting our environment, ocean and marine life”.

As SIDs grapple with the externally induced impact of the climate crisis – the chief cause of land-loss due to rising sea levels – amplifying their challenges and vulnerabilities, the reality of poor development outcomes and insecurities in many of countries prevail.

“Despite sustained economic growth … our people are struggling to make ends meet with one in every four Pacific islanders living below national basic needs poverty lines”, Mata’afa lamented. 

“Unemployment, particularly of women and young people is high, with youth unemployment at double the global rate” and “Pacific men outnumber Pacific women in paid employment by two to one,” she added. Moreover, some of the highest global rates of violence against women are in the Pacific.

At 7.7 percent, women’s representation in Pacific parliaments is the lowest globally. “Of the four countries globally that are without women parliamentarians, three are in the Pacific,” said Mata’afa.

Turning to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), she pointed out that regarding diabetes, seven Pacific countries are in the top 10 globally. And in 10 SIDs, five out of 10 Pacific islanders are overweight. 

“Moving forward, Pacific leaders are committed to more targeted support to enhance opportunities for women, youth, and persons with disabilities; addressing gender gaps in employment and decision making; enhancing sustainable tourism and fisheries while conserving the Pacific’s rich biodiversity; tackling NCDs and the dual threats of climate change and disasters more effectively”, she told the meeting.  

She expressed the Pacific’s gratitude for the 1.57-billion-dollar loan from the Green Climate Fund and said, “our challenge now is implementation ensuring we better utilise existing funding; strengthen capacities, institutions and partnerships; and increase investment in statistical systems”.

‘Holistic approach’ needed

Looking at least developed countries (LDCs), the UN Forum evaluated progress and challenges in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries where populations – many in conflict or post-conflict situations – are at high risk of being left behind. 

Many people in LDCs and landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) are disempowered by poverty and the lack of access to basic services. They not only do not benefit from economic growth but high annual population growth rates present challenges for enrolment in higher education, and in training a skilled workforce. 

Moreover, climate change and its associated risks have put additional pressures on households and government resources in LDCs and LLDCs.

To achieve sustainable results, development must be “a holistic process”, Saad Al Farargi, Special Rapporteur on the right to development told the meeting. This process should be one that requires the input and involvement of diverse groups, including States, international organisations, civil society, academia and the private sector. 

“Development programmes and policies can only succeed if they are addressing the right priorities,” he argued. “To do that, participatory consultative processes, open for all segments of the society, have to be envisaged, budgeted for an implemented solution at every step of the way.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 15 July 2019]

Photo: Children riding a bicycle in Tuvalu. Credit: UNDP | Silke Von Brockhausen

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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