The Pacific’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak is likely to lead to increased scrutiny of health budgets and investments in our region.
However first there are the very pressing questions of how to scale up response in individual countries and territories, best leverage regional expertise and cooperation, maintain public health messaging that is relevant to Pacific communities, and prepare for second and subsequent waves of infection.
When Islands Business first interviewed Sunia Soakai, the Deputy Director, Public Health Division, at the Pacific Community, only five countries had COVID-19 testing capabilities: Fiji, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Guam and Papua New Guinea. Since then other Pacific locations have come online. Palau has begun random testing with equipment donated by Taiwan. American Samoa is doing limited local testing, while still sending samples to Hawaii. The Northern Marianas has taken delivery of kits from a South Korean manufacturer, and its government aims to test every resident.
The most efficient way of facilitating local testing in our region, says Soakai, is to use custom-made cartridges in machines already in place for TB testing. The joint Incident Management Team of which SPC is a member (see p13) has placed orders for the cartridges and the consumables that go with them.
“No firm date has been set by the manufacturer [for delivery]” Soakai says, “but given that the Pacific is a region that has limited capacity, WHO and UNICEF have provided their support and the manufacturer has agreed to provide priority for the Pacific.”
It will be two long months before Fijian children are back at school; classrooms are scheduled to reopen on June 15
Like them, children in many other Pacific nations and territories are learning at home, or taking extended holidays, as a result of COVID-19 precautionary measures. Globally, the UN education and cultural agency, UNESCO says this is revealing a startling digital divide, as half of all students currently out of the classroom,or nearly 830 million learners globally, do not have access to a computer.
Writing from Queensland, academic Carol Farbotko and community leader Taukiei Kitara have suggested this period will give Tuvaluan students more time to join in fishing, farming, and production of handicrafts, thereby “strengthening customary knowledge systems.” However two Tuvalu government employees, Tala Simeti and Jess Marinaccio are concerned about the logistics of reopening schools, writing in DevPolicy: “if schools re-open too late and students are forced to repeat a year, this may have major ramifications for the entire education system.”
Alongside Kiribati and Vanuatu, Tuvalu offers its students the South Pacific Form Seven Certificate (SPFSC) course. How will they fare during the education lockdown?
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Harnessing traditional knowledge of the oceans in a way that isn’t exploitative or tokenistic is emerging as a strong theme at a regional ocean meeting currently underway in Noumea.
Scientists, policy makers and others with an interest in oceans management are meeting at the Pacific Community to plan for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030.
The Director of the Oceania Centre for Arts, Culture and Pacific Studies at the University of the South Pacific, Frances Koya, said the very premise of the UN decade and all Sustainable Development Goal frameworks need to be questioned first.
“When we unpackage the conversation about the Blue Pacific identity, the blue economy and the blue continent, it is very much an economic agenda,” she said.
“We will need to invest in research that examines indigenous understandings of sustainability, sustainable livelihoods, custodianship, stewardship and of course, resilience. Not just ecological resilience but a holistic, multidisciplinary understanding of what resilience means to us.”
Koya says we need to be vigilant about what another speaker described as ‘parachute researchers’.
“How can we ensure that we do not perpetuate extractive research and development practice, of taking from indigenous communities and knowledge systems to strengthen western models of good practice, that is culture and indigenous knowledge and participation solely for an outside agenda? We will need to be mindful for the need for very difficult conversations about meaningful participation, intellectual property rights and copyright in the context of collective cultural knowledge, shared and mutual gains and benefits, protective safeguarding mechanisms and legislature.”
Fiji’s Patrina Dumaru, who is a geography lecturer at USP reinforced this message, saying in her own research she very quickly learnt ,“you can’t really create behavioural change without appealing to the belief systems and the customary practices and values of the communities which you work with.
“I have worked with some great scientists who have appreciated this, but who also had challenges in interacting in that kind of environment.”
She appealed to scientists to think about how they can make their work relevant at the community level.
“ It is great to be innovative in your labs in the universities that you work in, but our relevance will be what kind of change is going to happen on the ground.”
A Pacific Youth Council representative at the meeting, Tyler Rae Chung, said learning traditional navigation techniques and ways of being with the ocean, “brought me back to my grassroots to understand that it is not just about extracting information from the ocean, but it’s also about understanding that there was indigenous knowledge before us.”
She appealed to participants to think about how they can work with young people during the ocean decade through a mentoring-monitoring program.
“It would be great to see what we can offer the next generation of leaders in terms of education assistance and building their capacity from grassroots levels to indigenous knowledge because it all comes back to the people as well as scientific knowledge.”
The Noumea meeting is the first of a series of regional meetings around the world to plan a scientific research agenda for the Ocean Decade. It continues today.
You are able to enjoy independent news coverage from the Ocean Decade conference through SPC’s Australian funded Climate and Ocean Support Program in the Pacific (COSPPac).
“We are failing, but we have not yet failed. There is still time in the next ten years to turn things around. It’s our last chance. And our survival as a species depends on the health of the oceans.”
This is the rallying cry of the Pacific Community’s Oceans Manager, Jens Kruger on the eve of a meeting of scientists, government representatives, policy makers, civil society organisations, community representatives and academics to plan for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.
Despite a long list of threats to the ocean—including sea level rise, habitat destruction, coral bleaching, acidification, overfishing, deoxygenation and deep-sea mining, many of which are detailed in the inaugural Global Ocean Science Report—Kruger is optimistic there is still time to turn things around.
“In the Pacific we live with the ocean and by the ocean, and we derive our life from the ocean, so it’s a subject that is very important to us and we need to bring everyone else in the world along on that journey to improve the health of the ocean.
“I’m optimistic that we can look towards science to provide some of those solutions that we need to tackle and be innovative. We realise that business as usual is not going to be good enough so the decade really tries to be transformative.”
The diversity of participants at the meeting reflects an approach that defines science in the broadest sense.
“We know that we can’t just have pure science or physical science in the decade. For example, for us in the Pacific, culture and arts is very important and policy is not just informed by science but also by social science,” Kruger says.
“We recognise that traditional knowledge sits alongside science and can provide really good innovative approaches to tackling some of the issues.”
The UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development will begin in 2021 and is intended to ensure ocean science can support countries to meet their 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, in particular, those relating to conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources. The Noumea meeting is the first of 8-10 similar gatherings that will be held around the world to create action plans as part of these coordinated global efforts.
Samantha Magick’s story has been developed as part of the Pacific Community Workshop on the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030. This was made possible through SPC’s Australian funded Climate and Ocean Support Program in the Pacific (COSPPac). COSPPac works to help translate ocean science that is critical and relevant to the Pacific region to better inform evidence based decision making for our climate and oceans