Apr 25, 2017 Last Updated 9:25 AM, Apr 12, 2017

Chaotic Melanesia

Is Melanesia the new Asia with its chaotic traffic ills

AS an office worker in Suva, Fiji’s capital, Andy is used to spending a good part of her morning and afternoon stuck in bumperto-bumper traffic. “That’s my life story,” she commented on social media. Another working mum, Violet, joins her soldier husband and three children as early as six o’clock for school drop-off before heading to work to beat the morning traffic.

She is not due to start work until 8am. The story is no different to that of other working mothers and fathers and school children living in Melanesian cities of Port Vila, Honiara and Port Moresby. “Honiara is one of the worst unplanned cities in the Pacific,” reports Island Sun newspaper publisher, Priestly Habru.

“One does not need to look far from the traffic congestion in peak hours to see the poor planning of the Solomon Islands capital city.” The same is true for Port Moresby, capital of Papua New Guinea. “In peak hours, at almost every intersection and roundabout, vehicles queue up bumper-to-bumper with traffic flow reducing to a crawl every day of the week.

Some areas of the city have become terribly congested that a trip that normally would have taken 10 minutes is taking half an hour. Others that would normally take 20 minutes are taking one and a half to two hours at the wrong time of the day,” writes Sam Vulum, editor of the The Sunday Chronicle newspaper in Moresby. 

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It’s more than just building roads, says Thomson

DEVELOPMENT should be about more than building roads or buying air conditioners, the President of the UN General Assembly, Peter Thomson, told IPS in a recent interview. Thomson, who started his career working as “a rural development man in Fiji”, says he had become disillusioned with development before the Sustainable Development Goals came along. After studying development studies at Cambridge, Thomson returned to Fiji where he spent much of the 1970s working in villages for the Fiji government: “digging pit latrines and building sea walls.” However, he began to feel disillusioned by development when he saw that it ultimately led to communities breaking up. Young people would leave to sell produce at the markets on newly constructed roads, and then eventually would stop coming back.

“I got quite disillusioned with this whole idea of this is what humanity is set on: growth (where) every government had to produce growth and every government had to put in roads.” “It just seemed we were covering all our best agricultural land with urban sprawl.” However, Thomson believes that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) - which UN member states have agreed to implement between 2016 and 2030 - represent a different paradigm, as, for example, shown in goal 12 - which promotes responsible consumption and production.

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In October a major academic paper was published in Nature, which solved many questions of the origins of Pacific peoples. Nature published “Genomic insights into the peopling of the Southwest Pacific”, based on a revolutionary study of ancient DNA from the Lapita skeletons from the Port Vila / Teouma burial site found during the 2004 to 2010 archaeological dig there. There are 31 authors to the paper, led by Pontus Skoglund of Harvard University, and directed by Ron Pinhasi and David Reich.

The foundation population of Vanuatu was probably directly from Taiwan or the northern Philippines and had bypassed New Guinea and the Solomons without initially any mixture with the ‘AustraloPapuans’ already there. All Ni-Vanuatu descend from these first migrants and from their later intermarriage with mixed Asian-Papuan groups who came down from the New Guinea and Solomons area. There are Asian Lapita genes in every Ni-Vanuatu, the mark of their earliest ancestors.

The original archaeological research carried out at Teouma was in response to damage to the site from soil quarrying for the Vanuatu prawn farm. The bulldozers had revealed skeletons and broken Lapita pots dating to almost 3000 years ago. This find was brought to the attention of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre (VKS) early in 2004. A joint project was begun at Teouma with the Australian National University, directed by Professor Matthew Spriggs and Dr Stuart Bedford, honorary curators of archaeology at the VKS. They are two of the 31 authors of the Nature paper and are the lead archaeologists on it.

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But performance will be crucial

The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) will embrace a leadership role in supporting its islands members to engage strategically in influencing the post-2015 global development agenda. This was one of the decisions taken by the organisation’s members at the 8th Conference of the Pacific Community hosted and chaired by Fiji on November 18–19, 2013, at the Vale ni Bose in Suva. SPC’s members include 22 Pacific Island countries and territories along with Australia, France, New Zealand and the USA.

At a post-conference briefing, SPC’s outgoing Director-General, Dr Jimmie Rodgers, explained the significance of the decision. “We have received instructions from our members.

They have made it very clear in paragraph six of the conference communiqué. “We are strategically positioned to take on a greater leadership role in the context of the Pacific’s engagement with the global post-2015 development agenda. This becomes a key priority for us. Our performance will be judged on what we deliver for our members in 2014,” he said.

In effect, the Pacific Community has requested its secretariat to assist islands members to do four things: to develop shared solutions; analyse and communicate information to Permanent Missions to the United Nations, based in New York; facilitate collaboration to ensure that Pacific territories are informed and represented through partnerships with the independent Pacific states; and build the capacity of members to contribute effectively to the formulation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are expected to replace the current internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire in 2015.

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Keeping govts and citizens informed

At the start of the 15-year journey towards the Millennium Development Goals (2000–2015), the absence of relevant and reliable statistical benchmarks was the norm rather than the exception in most Pacific Islands Countries. Virtually no MDG resources were invested in regular and ongoing collection of basic development statistics or in developing indicators, so how was progress to be measured?

It is a different story in 2013 as the end of the MDG journey approaches. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), with generous financial assistance from AusAID, has invested huge efforts in working with member countries to first develop its National Minimum Development Indicator database and expand the system’s content and functionality to also include all population-based MDG indicators. As Dr Gerald Haberkorn, Director of SPC’s Statistics for Development Division, says: ‘We’ve designed the NMDI database as a ‘one-stop info-shop’ to provide data users with easy access to development statistics and indicators across key sectors. This is what Pacific Leaders asked for in the Pacific Plan and it’s what our members need to assess their progress.’

In the wake of the global financial crisis, governments and donors are more focused than ever on the results and impacts of their development efforts and on the need for information to improve policy and decision-making.

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