Stakeholder Meeting on Poverty Alleviation and Social Protection in Fiji
Mr. David Smith, Senior Economic Affairs Officer, ESCAP Pacific Office delivered his opening statement on the ‘Stakeholder Meeting on Poverty Alleviation and Social Protection’ in Suva, Fiji on 23 January 2014. He stated that in the Pacific, economic growth has not kept pace with other major regions of the world in the last two decades, further worsening inequalities and poverty. In part, this is because the Pacific islands face natural disadvantages that hamper their growth prospects. These natural disadvantages include limited resource endowments; susceptibility to external economic shocks; small size of nations; and geographical isolation.
In addition, the economic growth and poverty alleviation was further hampered by constant encounters with natural disasters, particularly threats from tropical cyclones, tsunamis and earthquakes. He gave two recent examples quoting the 2012 excessive flooding in Fiji which claimed 8 lives, more than 3,500 people displaced, and an estimated damage cost of around USD17.2 million. Also, the category 5 Tropical Cyclone Ian in January 2014 which destroyed more than 70% of homes in the Ha’apai group in Tonga, claiming one death. Mr. Smith noted that it was unfortunate that during and after these natural disasters, vulnerable communities were suffering the most in terms of accessing basic services. Therefore, social protection was extremely important in the Pacific islands. He explained that in the Pacific, there are traditional informal social networks such as remittances for family support, as well as formal social protection systems (government specific programmes) in place.
He noted that it was therefore important to share the successful experiences of social protection systems among Pacific islands. In fact, sharing experiences (what has worked and what not) was one of the main objective of the ESCAP social protection toolbox discussed during the meeting. Sharing experiences among Pacific Islands on social protection systems not only facilitates knowledge dissemination but also minimized ‘adoption costs’ in terms of time and money on ‘re-inventing’ a system. In addition, sharing experiences and knowledge also facilitates and supports potential regional collaboration on social development issues and potential pooling of limited resources to tackle social development issues in the Pacific.