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Overview

  • The World Bank’s Pacific Island member countries have a combined population of about 2.3 million people, spread across a unique and diverse region made up of hundreds of islands, and scattered over an area equivalent to 15% of the earth’s surface.

    There is great diversity across the Pacific Islands region, from Fiji, which is the largest country of the group (excluding Papua New Guinea) with a population of over 900,000, to Tuvalu and Nauru, with estimated populations of approximately 11,000 each; making them the World Bank Group’s smallest members by population. Kiribati is one of the most remote and geographically-dispersed countries in the world, consisting of 33 coral atolls spread over 3.5 million square kilometers of ocean; an area larger than India.

    The remoteness of many of the Pacific Island countries has provided some initial protection from the global COVID-19 pandemic. Many countries effectively closed their borders early in 2020 and began quarantining suspected cases at the preliminary stages of the pandemic. However, with many health systems in the region not adequately equipped to respond to major country-wide outbreaks should they occur, the World Bank is supporting Pacific countries’ coronavirus response, with funding for health workers and essential supplies in addition to longer term public health system strengthening.

    Pacific Island countries are also some of the most vulnerable in the world to the effects of climate change and disasters. The World Risk Index 2019 ranks five Pacific Island countries among the top 20 most at-risk countries, including Vanuatu and Tonga, which are ranked first and third respectively.

    Pacific Island countries share similar challenges and opportunities as remote island economies. They are small in size with limited natural resources, narrow-based economies, large distances from major markets, and vulnerable to external shocks, such as COVID-19, all of which can affect economic growth, increase poverty and have often led to a high degree of economic volatility.

    Sustained development progress will require inclusive community-based approaches as well as long-term cooperation between governments, international development partners and regional organizations. The compounding impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing climate and disaster shocks on Pacific Island countries will pose major challenges for the region in 2020 and beyond.

    Last Updated: Oct 06, 2020

  • The World Bank is rapidly increasing its assistance in the Pacific Islands region with a significant increase in funds available through the International Development Association (IDA). Last year a new hub office for the South Pacific was established in Suva, Fiji, and its presence is already translating into stronger partner commitments and community-level impact.

    Regional Partnership Framework for nine Pacific Island countries (Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu) provides a roadmap for both regional opportunities and country-specific action plans until 2021. The World Bank’s work in Fiji and Solomon Islands is guided by individual country strategies, with a new Country Partnership Framework for Fiji currently being prepared.

    Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Bank Group is deploying up to US$160 billion in financial support to help countries around the world protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses, and bolster economic recovery.

    Within the Pacific region, World Bank-funded health projects are already underway in Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall IslandsPapua New Guinea and Samoa. Funding has also been activated in the Federated States of Micronesia, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu to support preparedness and response efforts. This support is delivering protection for health workers, increased testing capacity and essential supplies.

    Economic recovery support is also being delivered throughout FY21, and the World Bank has already supported Pacific countries with economic impact research to provide critical insights into how countries are being impacted by COVID-19, and, in turn, how best they can respond.

    The World Bank Group’s engagement with Pacific Island countries reflects the influence of the region’s economic geography on their development trajectories, with unique challenges arising from remoteness.

    With these challenges in mind, in 2017 the World Bank launched Pacific Possible, a comprehensive study that looked 25 years ahead to quantify the impacts of potential opportunities and significant challenges for the region, focusing on: climate and disaster resiliencedeep-sea mininghealth and non-communicable diseasesfinancing for developmentlabor mobilitytourism and fisheries. The findings in the complete Pacific Possible report aim to provide governments and policy makers with insights into the potential impact of each focus area on the economy, employment, government income, and spending.

    Focus sectors

    The World Bank is supporting rural development through a number of projects, including the Rural Development Program in Solomon Islands. The project, now in its second phase, helped hundreds of communities develop critical infrastructure, including footbridges, classrooms, health clinics and access to water and electricity.

    Agriculture is vital for many Pacific Island countries, particularly as most of the region’s population live in rural areas and rely on agriculture for food security and livelihoods. In Samoa, where almost 70% of the population are employed in agriculture, the World Bank is working with farmers to improve livestock and farming practices.

    The management and sustainability of oceanic and coastal fisheries across the Pacific is vital to the region’s future. The Pacific Islands Regional Oceanscape Program is helping Pacific countries coordinate sustainable management of tuna fisheries to ensure the benefits are maximized for each country’s future growth and development. The program also helps countries sustainably manage their coastal fisheries and critical habitats, and is currently active in the Federated States of MicronesiaKiribatiMarshall IslandsSolomon Islands, Tonga and Tuvalu, with a regional project in the Forum Fisheries Agency.

    In health, in addition to COVID-19 preparedness and response support, the World Bank is supporting Pacific countries to strengthen government-led analysis, planning, budgeting, management, and monitoring for more efficient and equitable health services.

    In the Marshall Islands, the Multisectoral Early Childhood Development Project is investing in maternal and child health, as well as early childhood stimulation and preschool services, with a focus on the first 1,000 days of life. The Samoa Health System Strengthening Program aims to improve access to health care in rural areas, particularly focusing on addressing non-communicable diseases.

    Transport is essential to the Pacific Islands region to connect people to markets, schools, hospitals and family, often over vast distances of ocean. The World Bank is supporting transport in Kiribati and Fiji through the Kiribati Outer Islands Transport Infrastructure Investment Project and the Fiji Transport Infrastructure Investment Project, which focus on land and sea transport, respectively.

    Through a consistent approach to address climate change impacts, projects are now underway to improve the resilience of key Pacific Island transport infrastructure in the Federated States of MicronesiaMarshall IslandsSamoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, while a dedicated aviation program has delivered major reconstruction works to airports and runways in Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, with work continuing in each country, as well as Kiribati and Solomon Islands, helping to make air travel safer and more efficient across the Pacific.

    Information Communication Technologies such as Internet and phones, are vital for connecting people. The P4: Pacific Regional ICT Regulatory Development Project aims to ensure people in the Federated States of MicronesiaFijiKiribatiSamoaPalau and Tuvalu are being connected to significantly faster, more reliable and more affordable Internet following the impact of similar work in Tonga.

    High population growth and high unemployment are now critical issues in many Pacific countries. The Skills and Employment for Tongans Project aims to improve employment pathways for Tongan youth, while in Solomon Islands, the Community Access and Urban Services Enhancement Project is providing skills training for 5,300 people from major towns across Solomon Islands.

    In the energy sector, the World Bank is working with the government of Vanuatu to increase electricity access for essentials such as lighting, phone charging and refrigeration. In the Federated States of MicronesiaMarshall Islands, and Tuvalu the World Bank is also supporting efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and fostering investment in renewable energy to increase sustainability and affordability.

    In Solomon Islands, this work includes the major Tina River Hydro Development Project, as well as investments in grid-connected solar, which aim to reduce Solomon Islands’ near total-reliance on diesel fuel for energy.

    Last Updated: Oct 06, 2020

  • There is arguably no more significant threat to the Pacific Islands than climate change, and through the Pacific Resilience Program, projects across the region are helping to strengthen Pacific Island countries’ resilience. In Fiji, the World Bank supported the government to prepare a comprehensive assessment of the country’s vulnerability to climate change in 2017, and in partnership with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), supported Fiji to issue the first ever Green Bond from a developing country, raising US$50 million for climate resilience in the process.

    In Kiribati, a program is working with communities to better prepare them for the impacts of climate change, including building rainwater tanks for remote communities as sea-level rise and drought have left many drinking wells contaminated.

    The Pacific Regional Connectivity Project is reducing the cost and increasing the availability of information and communication technology services needed to support social and economic development in the Pacific. This is one of the World Bank’s most significant infrastructure investment in the Pacific Islands over the past decade.

    The first phase of this work saw new fiber-optic connections constructed for Tonga. The Second Phase of the project covered the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), with the state of Yap connected in June 2018, and Chuuk in April 2019. The project also includes work to connect Samoa (Savai’i) and Fiji (Savusavu), and Kiribati, with new investments in a submarine cable for Tuvalu being delivered through a public-private partnership. A new World Bank supported digital project for the Federated States of Micronesia was launched in March of 2020.

    In disaster resilience, the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Assessment and Insurance (PCRAFI) initiative is a Pacific-owned facility that builds on regional collaboration. Through this program, Tonga and Vanuatu received insurance payouts in the immediate aftermath of Cyclones Ian (Tonga, 2014), Pam (Vanuatu, 2015), Gita (Tonga, 2018) and Harold (Tonga and Vanuatu, 2020) to help the countries rebuild and repair.

    The World Bank is also working to strengthen disaster preparedness. In Vanuatu, the National Warning Center’s early warning systems helped to save many lives when Cyclone Pam struck. And when disasters strike, the World Bank provides expertise to quickly assess damages, including following cyclones Pam (Vanuatu, 2015), Winston (Fiji, 2016) and Gita (Tonga, 2018). In both Vanuatu and Tonga, the World Bank has supported reconstruction of critical infrastructure – including schools and bridges. Most recently, in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Tino (February 2020), the World Bank provided emergency support to Tuvalu to assist with response and recovery efforts. 

    World Bank-funded transport infrastructure continues to improve life across the Pacific Islands. In 2016, the Kiribati Road Rehabilitation Project opened an improved road network, including works on the only main road through South Tarawa used by the entire population of 50,000 people. The project is the largest infrastructure investment in the country since World War II. Additionally, the World Bank has provided considerable support to the development or redevelopment of major airports and other aviation infrastructure in KiribatiSamoaTongaTuvalu, and Vanuatu.

    Work is now underway to improve the climate resilience of Samoa and Vanuatu’s transport infrastructure. In Vanuatu, a project approved in January 2020 is working on critical upgrades to 65 kilometers of road on the island of Espiritu Santo. In Samoa, work is underway on the West Coast Road, to connect the capital Apia with the international airport, and to rebuild Mali’oli’o Bridge on Savai’i island due to the existing crossing’s vulnerability to severe weather events and landslides. This follows World Bank support for the completion of the country’s first four-lane highway in 2016 and the reconstruction of Leone Bridge in 2017. 

    Clean energy projects are having a considerable impact in the Pacific, with Vanuatu’s Rural Electrification Program subsidizing solar kits and making electricity access a reality for 12,000 families and businesses in many of Vanuatu’s low-income rural areas. The Improved Electricity Access Project, together with the local service providers, own subsidized electricity connection programs that have enabled 4,500 low-income families to access the electricity grid. 

    similar project in Solomon Islands has enabled 1,160 connections to low-income households, community infrastructure and microenterprises. In addition, the construction on the Tina River Hydropower Project is set to begin in Solomon Islands; with the project aiming to reduce the country’s near-total reliance on imported diesel for fuel. Solomon Islands has some of the highest electricity costs in the world; a major roadblock to growth and poverty reduction. The project aims to meet 68% of electricity demand for the capital, Honiara, by 2025.

    The Solomon Islands Rapid Employment Project provided short-term employment and training for urban youth and women in the capital, Honiara. The project has generated over 867,000 days of work and trained more than 15,000 people, and has now expanded to other major towns – Auki, Gizo and Noro – as part of the Community Access and Urban Services Enhancement Project.

    Since it began in 2008, the Rural Development Program in Solomon Islands has provided funding and technical support to more than 1,600 projects, activities, and partnerships, reaching more than 337,000 Solomon Islanders in rural communities across the country.

    To improve Human Capital across the Pacific, the World Bank is working with countries to accelerate progress, while complementing government development plans. The World Bank is also supporting a training and skills program in Tongaearly age reading in Kiribati, Tonga and Tuvalu; and health and nutrition across the Pacific region, including a new  childhood development program in Marshall Islands focused on the earliest years of children’s lives.

    The Samoa Agriculture Competitiveness Enhancement Project supported crop and livestock farmers to improve their productivity and take advantage of market opportunities. Important achievements include the importation of new sheep and cattle breeds to improve livestock production and the introduction of new fruit and vegetable varieties to boost yields and diversify local diets. The project’s success has led to a new project, the Samoa Agriculture & Fisheries Productivity and Marketing Project, which also includes a new focus on fisheries.

    In Tonga, the Pacific Early Age Readiness and Learning (PEARL) project supported communities to deliver play-based activities to help children be better prepared for starting school. The project trained teachers to help improve learning results of students in the first grades of primary education, and saw the launch of the Laukonga Mo e Fanau’ (‘Read with your child’) campaign, which encourages Tongan families to commit at least 10 minutes each day to reading with their child.

    Last Updated: Oct 06, 2020




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Additional Resources

Country Office Contacts

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
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