UN High-level Meeting in the Pacific to Address Challenges Facing Island States

Pacific islands, dispersed over a vast ocean and often thousands of miles away from the nearest continent, rely heavily on expensive satellite communications to keep connected with the outside world.

Conditions exist, however, for them to redesign and invest in a more economical infrastructure and seize the job and business opportunities brought about by better connectivity with the world economy. With good literacy rates and the English and French languages widely in use, Pacific islands could become, like India, a centre for data entry, call centre operation, back office support and e-commerce.

Pacific island leaders called at the “Pacific Leaders’ United Nations ESCAP Special Session (PLUS)” in 2006 for increased support from Asian countries to address the development challenges of Pacific islands. In response, the issue of Pacific connectivity will be taken up at a high-level meeting in Noumea, New Caledonia, on 12-13 March, organized by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) – in cooperation with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS).

Chaired by Noeleen Heyzer, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP, delegations from more than ten Pacific Island Countries, lead by Presidents, Vice-Presidents, Prime Ministers and Deputy Prime Ministers, will also address other key challenges facing their island states, including climate change, energy, food security and water management.
They will be joined by the heads of major Asian regional groupings – ASEAN, SAARC and ECO – providing the meeting with an opportunity to draw on Asia’s experience in technology application, funding and public-private partnership.

The ten-member Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), eight-country South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) which brings together ten nations in Central, South and Southwest Asia will be represented by their Secretaries-General.

An ESCAP study to be presented at the meeting points out that the costs for telecommunications and Internet access tend to be higher in Pacific islands than in small island economies elsewhere. This could be changed through economically re-deploying underused cable and creating cable and satellite “clubs” to share the costs among several small countries. Removing regulatory and ownership constraints and introducing competition could save about $80 million annually which could be invested to modernize telecommunications products and services. A roundtable bringing together participants from Pacific island countries, public and private sectors, and multilateral organizations will discuss the recommendations made in the study.

Another report to be presented at the meeting by ESCAP points out that, while Asia and the Pacific outperformed other regions in economic growth in the past two decades, large disparities exist within the region. Without concerted policies, the economic disparity between the best and the worst performing developing nations in the region, as measured in real per capita income, could increase from nine times in 2005 to a staggering 71 times in 2015.

Asia and the Pacific has the capacity to address the issue, the report says. But that requires better cooperation between various sub-regional groupings. The meeting will consider setting up a Regional Cooperation Framework for Asia-Pacific which will strengthen the existing informal dialogues between ESCAP and the four sub-regional organizations of PIFS, ASEAN, SAARC and ECO.

Ms. Heyzer will also hold discussions with Pacific leaders to hear their views on how ESCAP could be of more assistance to them and on ESCAP’s reform proposal.

The meeting will take place at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) conference room in Noumea, New Caledonia.

For further information, please visit: www.unescap.org/Noumeaeeting.