Ten Pacific Islands countries are now members of the World Bank:
• Federated States of Micronesia
• Marshall Islands
• Solomon Islands
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 850,000, while Tuvalu, with an estimated population of 10,500 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, 83 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.
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 Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu, with other Pacific Islands countries to follow.
The 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 in Samoa and through 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 the Government of Samoa’s reform program aimed at promoting preventative healthcare, and ensuring equitable access to a modern, efficient health service.
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.
In the energy sector, the Bank is working with the Government of Vanuatu explore options to reduce vulnerability to oil price volatility, such as helping develop renewable energy through geothermal power. In Tonga, The World Bank is supporting a series of investments and reforms to improve access and reduce electricity cost.
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 o f 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, 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.
In 2009, a devastating tsunami struck the shores of Tonga and Samoa. The Bank is supporting the governments in restoring livelihoods and infrastructure in affected communities, while also improving their resilience to future disasters. The Bank is also supporting infrastructure work in Kiribati by rehabilitating roads in the country.
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.
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.
In disaster reconstruction and rehabilitation, the 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.
The Solomon Islands Rapid Employment Project provided short-term employment and training amid the economic crisis for urban youth and the women in the capital of Honiara. To date, 250,000 labor days have been created by the project with about 15,000 people benefitting from training and work activities. Approximately 57 percent of total beneficiaries are women and 50 percent youth. The REP is expected to exceed its labor day targets by the end of the project in 2015.
The Kiribati Adaptation Program is supporting the country to adapt to the effects of climate change, improving water security and improving coastal resilience. Comprised of low-lying coral islands with population and infrastructure concentrated along the coast, the people of Kiribati are perhaps among the most vulnerable towards effects of climate change such as sea level rise and coastal erosion. The program has helped plant 37,000 mangrove seedlings and construct a seawall to better protect Kiribati’s citizens.