Populations of many Melanesian countries in the southwest Pacific Islands region are expected to double in a generation, threatening regional and national efforts to improve low economic and human development indicators.
While the United Nations claims to have met the Millennium Development Goal target of improving the lives of 100 million slum dwellers well ahead of the 2020 deadline, the fact remains that millions around the world continue to live in informal, overcrowded and unsanitary housing conditions.
In the Pacific Island state of Vanuatu, 23 actors with disabilities, from youth to senior citizens, who have battled physical and social barriers all their lives, are now empowering themselves and others through socially engaged theatre.
Rapid migration to cities and towns, driven by scarce public services and jobs in rural areas, is producing a profound social shift in Pacific Island countries, where agrarian life has dominated for generations. But the urban dream remains elusive as a severe lack of housing forces many into sprawling, poorly-serviced informal settlements.
Since the French overseas territory of New Caledonia in the South Pacific was reinstated on the United Nations Decolonisation List in 1986, the indigenous Kanak people have struggled not only against socio-economic disadvantages, but also for the right to determine their political future after more than a century of colonialism.
The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), a western Pacific Island state located north of Papua New Guinea and east of Palau, has become a regional pioneer in drafting national legislation centred on climate change.
Still a long way off in many parts of the world, climate displacement is already a reality in the Pacific Islands, where rising seas are contaminating fresh water and agricultural land, and rendering some coastal areas uninhabitable.
The global spectre of state violence against political dissent, with paramilitary law enforcement units advancing against citizens they are employed to protect in cities such as Cairo, Bangkok and Kiev is daily news. But in some developing countries, the police are being used to put down indigenous opposition to the alliance of state and corporate power over resource extraction.
For many Pacific Islanders, customary land is the source of life, identity and social security. However, most island states are developing countries, and governments claim land reform is needed to improve infrastructure and economic development. Registration of customary land, the predominant tenure system, with more options for leasing to the state and developers is being promoted as the way forward.
Natural reserves such as gold, copper, nickel, gas and timber are being extracted in the western Pacific island states of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands to feed the soaring economies of East and South East Asia. But despite these Pacific nations recording economic growth rates of 6-11 percent over the past seven years, opportunities for human development have not been grasped.
Long-term dependence on development aid in Pacific Island nations, many of which have been independent for 30-40 years, continues to cause concern.
The indigenous struggle for liberation in West Papua on the western half of the island of New Guinea in the south-west Pacific, with the loss of thousands of lives, is far from ending. But, despite political uncertainties, a united coalition of pro-independence leaders has reignited hope of freedom by galvanising the support of a Pacific Islands inter-governmental organisation.
Women’s political representation in the Pacific Islands region is globally the lowest at 3.65 percent, compared to the world average of 18 percent. Leadership is still widely perceived as ‘men’s business’ and voting is heavily influenced by nepotism and money politics. However, Rhoda Sikilabu, minister for community affairs in Isabel Province in the Solomon Islands is demonstrating that women leaders can drive development progress and win voter support.
Logging is the largest industry in the Solomon Islands, an archipelago located northwest of Fiji, where 80 percent of the islands are covered in tropical rainforest. But, although timber accounts for 60 percent of this South Pacific nation’s export earnings, most local communities have experienced no beneficial development.
Anguish over the whereabouts of loved ones who went missing during a five-year civil conflict that ended a decade ago continues for countless families in the Solomon Islands. Searching for the remains of those who disappeared is vital to enduring peace in this culturally diverse south-west Pacific island nation of 550,000.