Pacific nations offer support to Australia
Pacific island countries and their peoples have offered support to Australia. As news and images of the bushfires disaster continues to spread throughout the region, individuals, communities and government leaders have offered their support. The deputy Prime Minister of Vanuatu, Jotham Napat, announced that his country would donate VT20 million (approximately $250,000) to support the work of firefighters. Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia telephoned Mr Napat on Monday to thank him for the support. In Papua New Guinea, the government has set up a fundraising secretariat and already received a pledge of K50,000 (approx. $20,000) from a Bougainville politician. PM James Marape has also offered 1,000 defence personnel to assist. The leaders of Fiji and the Federated States of Micronesia have sent messages of support, including via social media. Private sector enterprises have also joined the efforts, pledging takings and offering donations of products for fundraising activities.
Samoa ends state of emergency
In Samoa, the state of emergency that was declared in relation to the measles epidemic has been lifted. The state of emergency had been in place for six weeks. During that time medical teams from Samoa worked alongside colleagues who joined them from overseas to get the infection under control. Part of the work was a mass vaccination programme. More than 5,600 people were infected with the disease, which is approximately 2.8% of the population of the country. There were 81 deaths, with the majority of those being of children aged under four years old. As the country comes to term with the aftermath of the emergency, there have been some calls for an inquiry into the quality of the response on the part of authorities. There have been measles outbreaks in other Pacific island countries, including Tonga and Fiji.
Palau moves to protect marine environment
The New Year saw Palau introduce new measures to protect its marine environment. As of January 1 2020, Palau has become the first country in the world to ban the use and sale of sunscreen products that contain any of 11 ingredients considered to be harmful to coral reefs. This brings into force a law that was enacted in 2018. In addition, 80% of the waters surrounding Palau are now closed to all forms of fishing. Tourism is a crucial part of the economy in Palau with much of the sector focused on the dive industry. President Remengesau has expressed his confidence that these measures will not have an adverse effect on the industry. In 2017, Palau introduced an ‘eco-pledge’ that all visitors to the island are required to sign. It requires them to ‘tread lightly, act kindly and explore mindfully’.
US to investigate Runit Dome
A US law passed at the end of 2019 directs the Department of Energy to conduct an investigation into the Runit Dome in Marshall Islands. The dome was constructed to contain contaminated soil arising from nuclear testing conducted during the Cold War. Congress has ordered that the investigation into possible leaks and resulting contamination be completed by June. The terms of reference include an examination of the impacts of rising sea levels on the viability of the dome. This is an issue that Marshallese people and their leaders have been concerned about for many years. The announcement of the inquiry was welcomed by Rhea Moss-Christian, who is the chair of the Marshall Islands National Nuclear Commission. This announcement comes at an important juncture in relations between the US and Marshall Islands. Negotiations relating to extending the Compact of Association are expected to progress this year.
Jacinda Ardern named Pacific person of the year
The leading regional magazine Islands Business has named the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, as their ‘Pacific Person of the Year’ for 2019. Although New Zealand’s foreign minister Winston Peters is very much the face of the ‘Pacific Reset’, Prime Minister Ardern has had an impact in the region in her own right. Samisoni Pareti, editor and publisher of Islands Business said the award was to make particular recognition of Ardern’s contributions at the meeting of Pacific Islands Forum leaders in Tuvalu. She was credited for working to maintain relationships during what became a very tense meeting in order that a degree of consensus could be achieved. Pareti also made mention of the leadership that Ardern had showed at home during the Christchurch massacre. Ardern is only the second person of non-Pacific island heritage to have received this award.
Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute.