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Pacific Islands Overview

    Context

    Ten Pacific Island countries are members of the World Bank:

    • Federated States of Micronesia
    • Fiji
    • Kiribati
    • Marshall Islands
    • Palau
    • Samoa
    • Solomon Islands
    • Tonga
    • Tuvalu
    • Vanuatu

    The World Bank’s Pacific island member countries have a population of about 3.4 million people, spread across hundreds of islands, and scattered over an area equivalent to 15 percent of the globe’s surface. This is a unique and diverse region. Fiji, the largest among the group, has a population of around 880,000, while Tuvalu, with an estimated population of 9,876 is the World Bank Group’s smallest member. Kiribati  is one of the most remote and geographically dispersed countries in the world, consisting of 33 islands spread over 3.5 million square kilometers of ocean – an area larger than India. Solomon Islands is geographically splintered with 1,000 small islands and atolls. It has a low population density with half a million people dispersed across the islands, 79 percent of whom are rural and 40 percent below the age of 14. It is the poorest country in the pacific when measured in terms of GNI per capita.

    Since independence Pacific Island countries have achieved real progress. Life expectancy has increased, infant mortality rates have declined, and less people are struck with infectious disease. However, economic growth has been well below the global average for developing countries.

    These counties share similar challenges as small and remote island economies. Small size, limited natural resources, narrowly based economies, large distances to major markets, and vulnerability to exogenous shocks, can affect growth and have often led to a high degree of economic volatility.

    These are also some of the most vulnerable countries in the world to the effects of climate change and natural disasters. Based on a World Bank report, of the 20 countries in the world with the highest average annual disaster losses scaled by gross domestic product, eight are Pacific island countries: Vanuatu, Niue, Tonga, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Marshall Islands, and the Cook Islands.

    Sustained development progress will require long-term cooperation by international partners. More broadly, greater economic integration, more equitable natural resource agreements, and more open labor markets in metropolitan neighbors, and adaptation to climate change will also be vital for the longer term future of the Pacific Islands.

    Strategy

    The World Bank has been scaling up its assistance in the Pacific Islands and is moving from a regional approach to individual country strategies to better acknowledge country-specific challenges and priorities. In recent years, the World Bank has developed specific country strategies for the Federated States of Micronesia, Solomon Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu, with other Pacific Islands countries to follow.

    The World Bank Group’s engagement with the Pacific Island countries reflects the fact that their development trajectories have been influenced by their economic geography, with unique challenges arising from remoteness.

    The Bank is supporting rural development through several projects, including the Rural Development Project in Solomon Islands. The RDP has helped hundreds of communities develop critical infrastructure, like bridges, schools, health clinics and access to water and electricity.

    In the health sector, the Bank is supporting Pacific Island countries reduce the rate of non-communicable diseases (also known as lifestyle diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease). The regional NCD Roadmap has been developed in partnership with governments and key stakeholders in the region.

    With most Pacific Island countries comprising of low lying islands, they are among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and sea level rise. Efforts to help Pacific Island nations promote adaptation to climate change will be essential to ensure long-term resilience and security. The Pacific Catastrophe Risk Insurance Pilot uses risk pooling to help lower the cost of participating countries’ insurance while other projects in the region support natural disaster preparedness and mitigation.

    Transport, whether via roads, air or water, is vital to Pacific Islands as it connects people to markets, schools, hospitals and family. In Tonga the World Bank is working with the government through the Tonga Transport Sector Consolidation Project. Through the Pacific Aviation Investment Program, Kiribati, Tonga, Tuvalu and now Samoa will also be supported to make air travel safer and more efficient.

    High population growth and high unemployment has become a serious problem in Honiara, the capital of Solomon Islands. The World Bank is helping the government to assist the most vulnerable of Honiara's population, particularly youth and women, by providing short-term employment and trainings through the Rapid Employment Project.

    In the energy sector, the Bank is working with the Government of Vanuatu to increase the number of households with access to electricity for things such as lighting or phone charging. In the Federated States of Micronesia the Energy Sector Development Project will support the government to increase the availability and efficiency of energy supply for the country.

    In the mining sector, the World Bank is providing technical assistance to the Solomon Islands Government in reviewing policies and regulations. Activities include raising awareness of the importance of women’s role in the negotiation and management of royalties, and supporting Solomon Islands to sign up to the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative.

    The Bank is supporting initiatives to improve access to telecommunications in  countries across the region, through individual reform programs in Tonga, Vanuatu, Samoa, Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Solomon Islands, and the Pacific Regional Connectivity Program, working to provide improved internet access across the region. These initiatives aim to help connect people and businesses to services, markets and information, regionally and beyond. 

    Pacific Island countries derive significant economic and social benefits from their marine resources. This is a major opportunity for the region: Twenty million square kilometers of the South Pacific are home to the largest tuna fishery in the world. The World Bank has developed a Fisheries Engagement Strategy to help Pacific Island countries capture a greater share of the benefits from their fisheries, while supporting conservation. 

    Results

    In disaster reconstruction and rehabilitation, Tonga was the first country to benefit from a payout under the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Insurance Pilot after the devastating impacts of Cyclone Ian in January 2014. In Samoa and Tonga Post-Tsunami Reconstruction Projects have helped communities rebuild their lives after the powerful tsunami in 2009. In Samoa, the project supported communities to relocate to safer grounds to ensure their safety in the future. Upgrading of 30 kilometers of road has helped approximately 5,000 people improve the livelihoods of tsunami-affected communities.

    Telecommunications in many countries across the Pacific has been improved. In Samoa approximately 90 percent of the country’s population gained access to a mobile phone between 2002 and 2010. A new fiber optic cable recently connected Tonga to Fiji and will help increase broadband internet access and affordability.

    Food security is an issue for many Pacific Island countries. The Samoa Agriculture Competitiveness Enhancement Project is working to support fruit and vegetable growers and livestock producers improve their productivity and take greater advantage of market opportunities.

    The Solomon Islands Rapid Employment Project is providing short-term employment and training for urban youth and the women in the capital of Honiara. By March 2014 the project had generated over 460,000 days of work and trained over 9,000 people. The project has exceeded its women and youth targets with those benefiting from the project made up by 58 percent women and 52 percent youth. The REP is expected to exceed its labor day targets by the end of the project in 2015.

    Activities across the region are supporting Pacific Island countries respond to climate change. Projects include the Kiribati Adaptation Program which is supporting the country to adapt to the effects of climate change, improving water security and improving coastal resilience. In Samoa a project is working to enhance the climate resilience of the West Coast Road which is a key connector and objective of the Government of Samoa.

Country Office Contacts

All Pacific Islands Country Offices

Pacific Islands unit based in Sydney
(+61-2) 9223 7773

Level 19 14 Martin Place Sydney NSW 2000
Australia

pacificmedia@worldbank.org
Washington, +1 202-473-4709

1818 H Street, NW Washington, DC 20433
USA

eastasiapacific@worldbank.org