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Source: Compiled from the secretariat of the Pacific Community, Pocket Statistical Summary, 1998, and Pacific Island Populations, Wall Chart, 1997, Suva, Fiji.
In Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, the population is largely rural but the urban portion is increasing at more than 6 per cent per annum, one of the highest rates in the world. Some basic information on the relative rates of population growth in the South Pacific is provided in table 1. There is a clear transition from a predominantly rural to a predominantly urban South Pacific region.
An important feature of the pattern of urban growth is that in some countries population is concentrated on the main island. This is a result of the physical nature of the territory and the limited level of economic activities. In Kiribati, some 60 per cent of the national population lives in the Gilbert group, dominated by the main island of South Tarawa. In Samoa, some 70 per cent of the population lives on the island of Upolu (ESCAP 1991).
B. Continuing rural-urban migration
Even though the rural population is relatively large in a number of countries, urbanization and urban living are fast becoming an integral part of the development of the South Pacific nations. The promotion of industrial development, the centralization of the government bureaucracy and the growing service sector all tend to increase urbanization and are likely to focus on capital cities. These processes, which are essential for national economic development, create the forces that encourage rural-urban migration.
The push factors for rural-urban migration include declining commodity prices, continuing high rates of population growth, lack of employment, limited education opportunities and the need to support the wider extended family financially. The pull factors include the monetary economy, prospects for employment in towns, education and lifestyles, recreational and social facilities, changing expectations and the existence of family and clan support networks.
Given the rural base of many national economies in the Pacific, it is natural that rural development programmes will be expanded but their capacity to absorb the increasing workforce and retain it in the rural areas will be limited. Urban populations are increasing through natural increase and rural-urban migration. Moreover, the ongoing transition from subsistence economies to globally integrated cash economies supports the trend towards urbanization.
Pacific capitals are becoming primate cities, being substantially larger than the next largest city, and continue to attract more growth. For example, in Fiji, there is a reasonably well-developed hierarchy of urban centres, but in 1996 metropolitan Suva had four times the population of the second largest city, Lautoka, and is growing three times faster. A feature of metropolitan Suva is that it covers not only the outer-Suva towns of Lami and Nasinu and all the peri-urban development around them but also the town of Nausori, which was once a major centre for sugar production. This town still provides a large rural hinterland with limited services but a large proportion of the population of the town and its suburbs now depends on employment in Suva.
Apia is the only urban centre in Samoa. Similarly, in Solomon Islands, apart from Honiara, there is no substantial urban centre. In Vanuatu, apart from Port Vila and Luganville, there are no urban centres.
In Papua New Guinea, because of the absence of an interconnecting pattern of road links between urban centres, the primacy of Port Moresby is not so marked. The city of Lae has about 40 per cent of the population of Port Moresby, partly because of better road connections with the rich agricultural hinterland. In most of the Federated States of Micronesia, the shortage of land naturally places population growth pressures on the main urban centres.
The increasing pressure for services, employment, housing, schooling and health in many Pacific cities is likely to put a severe strain on national resources in the years to come. Furthermore, people’s expectations are rising and standards that proved adequate in the past are less likely to be satisfactory in the future. The information revolution that has enabled most South Pacific countries to access global television networks is increasing the desire for better housing, with a piped water supply and electricity, road access to houses, postsecondary and technical education, better health services and closer access to major national facilities and sporting events. Linked with these desires is the desire for regular paid employment.
Historically, economic growth and the level of urbanization have been closely related. The physical and social infrastructure provided in urban areas is essential for the development of manufacturing and service industries. Recent World Bank and United Nations studies show that a majority of the national GDP is produced in urban areas (UNCHS 1996a). However, the inefficient provision or absence of essential services such as transportation and communications, security of land tenure, housing, energy, water supply, sewerage and waste management is hindering investment and sound economic development in many countries. Urbanization also enables governments to provide services for social development such as education, health and recreation more efficiently than when the population is spread thinly over the national territory. The positive aspects of urbanization could be fully realized in government planning processes if urbanization is approached in a proactive manner.
Physical planning has had mixed experience in the Pacific. It involves the preparation of plans for the future expansion of an urban or rural settlement through a process of public consultations, based on existing and forecast levels of population and types and directions of physical development. The plan itself depicts, in broad terms, future land use, densities of development, transportation routes and other infrastructure provision, such as water supply and sewerage. It is accompanied by a set of regulations that control development through a process of development approvals. In some regimes it is also accompanied by a programme for investment in infrastructure and other aspects of implementing the plan.
An important feature of the planning process is that landowners must seek planning approval for any development, change of use of the land or the density of occupation, since all such development proposals require the provision of adequate infrastructure and social services by the relevant public authorities.
Some countries in the region have extensive experience, based on the British model of town and country planning, with forward planning, land use zoning schemes, statutory planning, and building and land subdivision bylaws (for example, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands).
Lack of physical planning
While urban planning has brought about systematic development in parts of some cities, in many others there is limited application in the absence of planning legislation and the necessary institutional framework. The land tenure system, topography, non-availability of services and other factors have tended to create an interrupted pattern of urban development, with areas of undeveloped lands breaking the physical continuity of development.
Apia in Samoa and Nuku’alofa in Tonga, and the cities in the Federated States of Micronesia (except in Kiribati) do not have a legally applicable town plan, even though many plans have been prepared for directing their growth. The local authorities do not have the authority to prepare a legally binding plan for urban expansion and management and the issue is low in the priorities of the relevant central government authorities. This has resulted in uncoordinated and fragmented growth, difficulties in the provision of services, inefficient transport planning, pollution of the lagoon and lack of public spaces.
In Apia, several short-term plans have been prepared but the preparation of long-term development plans has been hindered by the lack of information, lack of town planning expertise, lack of legislation and weak administrative arrangements and concern over the rights of customary landowners. The most recent development plan for Apia was approved by Cabinet in 1992, but its implementation is slow for the reasons stated above (UNCHS 1996b).
Several cities in the Federated States of Micronesia have physical development plans to guide their orderly development but there is a lack of institutional and human resource capacity for implementation. Kiribati introduced the Land Planning Act in 1997, creating the Central Land Planning Board responsible for the preparation of strategic plans. A unique effort is being made in South Tarawa to develop a planning system to suit local institutional and social structures. The Urban Management Plan for South Tarawa has been prepared by the South Tarawa Urban Management Committee through an extensive process of consultations with all landowners and other stakeholders. The consultation process and the workshops held during this planning exercise could serve as a possible model for other countries to consider.
In countries that still have a strong influence of traditional leadership structures in urban management it has been difficult to introduce statutory planning processes. This is partly due to concern on the part of the landowners that they will become subject to control over development of their lands. In such cases, the considerable increase in land values that planning schemes can generate and the potential for such increases to partly finance the investment in infrastructure has not been fully realized.
Linking physical and economic planning
In countries where urban planning has been practised for some time, especially in Melanesia, it has mostly operated without proper linkage with national economic planning. Even though during the formulation of the National Economic Development Plan adequate consultations are made with all departments and other interests within and outside government, the very desirable process of integrating physical planning with economic planning has not been achieved. The result is that certain proposals for economic development cannot proceed efficiently because an adequate physical and social infrastructure is non-existent or insufficient.
Efficient planning and management of urban areas could provide a better base for economic development. Such planning could take into account the standards for land use zoning and the other requirements for planning permission so as to encourage small enterprises and avoid the necessity for unduly heavy investment constraints on new industries that are becoming estanblished. Coordination among various agencies involved in the physical, economic and social issues has been difficult to achieve in spite of the long experience with national economic development planning in some countries.
At the beginning of the decade, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) set out very clearly the major thrusts for action in urban management. These are listed in the box 2.
Although the directions outlined by UNDP need to be adapted in the context of small South Pacific island countries, most of them are applicable as they stand, even at the end of this decade.
Since the early 1990s, there has been considerable discussion of the issue of sustainable development. The report of the Pacific Island developing countries to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, entitled The Pacific Way (SPREP 1992), includes some principles of sustainable development. These include the following:
These principles are very relevant to the management of urbanization in the Pacific islands. The concept of sustainable development has become incorporated in Agenda 21, the global plan of action adopted at the Rio Conference, and is being applied increasingly widely at national level and in each country’s Agenda 21.
The Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, held in Bridgetown, Barbados, in 1994 translates Agenda 21 into specific policies, actions and measures to be taken at the national, regional and international levels to enable small island developing states to achieve sustainable development (United Nations 1994).
The international movement towards the concept of sustainable development has encouraged other sectors of national and international development to view the issues of sustainability in their particular spheres. In the field of human settlements, the United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat) (UNCHS) explored the concept in some depth in its preparations for the Rio Conference in the publication entitled Human Settlements and Sustainable Development (UNCHS 1990). The concept of sustainable human settlements became enshrined in an international programme through the inclusion of human settlements in Agenda 21, as outlined box 3.
The many socio-economic and environmental problems currently found in cities in the South Pacific make it imperative that efforts are made to define the parameters for sustainable patterns of urban management. The Habitat II conference has elaborated on the various aspects of sustainable human settlements management in an urbanizing world and these, together with recommendations for adequate shelter for all, are contained in the Habitat Agenda (UNCHS 1997a).
This concept of sustainable human settlements development needs to be defined in the specific context of each country for the efficient management of urban and rural centres and for this a regional initiative may be necessary to guide national action. Fiji is currently initiating the legal framework for ensuring sustainable development in urban and rural areas and its experience could be useful to the region.
Migration to the major urban centres has been so rapid that national and local governments generally have been unable to provide the necessary services or to set up the systems to enable people to provide some of these services themselves. Most urban migrants live in overcrowded conditions in squatter settlements and slums. These settlements are often located on marginal lands such as stream banks, mangroves, flood-prone areas, hill slopes and lands otherwise unsuitable for development. Central and local governments very seldom provide them with basic infrastructure and services such as roads, water supply, sanitation and solid waste management because the settlements are illegal.
Health issues among the poor have assumed serious proportions owing to certain negative aspects of urbanization. General nutrition levels among the poor are decreasing as opportunities for urban agriculture are limited in the larger cities and traditional food supply systems no longer function.
Overcrowded accommodation in some densely populated atolls (for example, in the Marshall Islands) is leading to respiratory illnesses. Inadequate sanitation causing contamination of shellfish has led to outbreaks of gastrointestinal diseases and hepatitis in Tarawa, Kiribati. The rate of child mortality in the Marshall Islands is one of the highest in the Asian and Pacific region.
In Apia, despite recent improvements, many areas of the city are devoid of drainage. The city characterizes the need for planning and a number of factories and workshops are located in the midst of residential areas. Some areas in the city have dense development of the traditional house ("fales") with very limited open spaces around them. Thus, improvement in planning in Apia has become a prime issue that needs to be dealt with immediately, in order to preserve the quality of life (UNCHS 1996b).
Various institutional, cultural and social factors affect the nature and pace of the adaptation from village to town living. The national development process in the Pacific involves the movement of people on a scale unprecedented in traditional societies.
In urban areas there is considerable strain on the traditional social value systems developed over centuries. These traditional leadership structures continue to serve well in the rural areas but in the urban settlements family and clan-based authority systems are breaking down. The social disruption caused by the division of families between urban and rural areas and the loss of traditional "safety nets" has contributed to higher levels of divorce, single parent families and a rise in domestic violence. Insecurity and rapid urban growth have caused tensions between migrant groups, landowners and urban authorities.
Unemployment is one of the major problems associated with urbanization in the South Pacific. Many employment policies and programmes stress formal sector jobs instead of improvements in the subsistence or informal sectors. The growth potential in the small business sector remains undeveloped. In Port Moresby, up to one third of the urban population is seeking work and in other urban centres of Papua New Guinea unemployment is more than 10 per cent. The numbers of the unemployed are rising as new batches of the younger generation join the workforce (Connell, 1999). Unfulfilled expectations of the urban settlers have spawned alcohol and drug abuse, family violence and -- what has become the most publicized social problem in Papua New Guinea -- criminal youth gangs (UNCHS 1993). Unemployment is also one of the causes of the rising incidence of crime in the large cities. In Port Moresby, some 69 per cent of the unemployed men are known to be living through crime (Connell, 1999).
The concentration of people in urban areas has greatly improved the economics of the informal sector and in many towns micro and small businesses are thriving. The informal sector takes different forms in different countries. In the smaller countries, informal jobs include bottle collecting, street vending, newspaper selling, car washing, shoe polishing. In the larger countries in the region, many of the building trades, vehicle repairs and a whole range of activities are undertaken in the informal sector.
This is an important sector of the urban economy as high population growth, young population structure, relatively slow economic growth rates and very limited potential for labour absorption in the formal sectors imply that, for island countries, absorption of the unemployed will critically rely upon the small businesses and micro-enterprises which operate in the informal sector. However, the informal sector operates under many constraints which arise from central and local government legislation and administrative procedures.
The South Pacific islands enjoy a reasonable level of subsistence income in the rural areas but in urban areas the cash economy has become dominant. Over the last decade, almost all countries have witnessed low or stagnant economic growth while the population has continued to grow. In a number of countries, the available financial resources have had to be diverted to cyclone-related rehabilitation and humanitarian relief efforts. The effects of the slow rate of economic growth are felt most in urban areas and are a constraint on improving the standard of living and advancing human development.
In recent years, several countries have restructured a number of government institutions through a process of commercialization, corporatization or privatization. In some services this has resulted in the removal of subsidies, with the consequent adverse effect on the poor. A 1997 Fiji poverty study showed that one in four households could not afford a basic standard of living, with a majority of the poor living in urban areas (Government of Fiji and UNDP 1997).
Human development index
UNDP has explored the concept of sustainable human development, which seeks to refocus attention on the ultimate objective of development, increasing the opportunities for people to lead productive and satisfying lives. This implies assessing development in terms of a range of social and economic indicators and not just in terms of income growth (UNDP 1994). This approach is captured in the concept of human development which is assessed by UNDP through the compilation of the human development index (HDI) for each country. The human development index was first published in 1991 in the Human Development Report. The index is based on a range of socio-economic indicators such as life expectancy at birth, child mortality, adult literacy, access to safe water and health services, employment and wages and the status of women. A global ranking is undertaken based on the index. Table 2 shows some of the key indicators and the human development index for the countries of the South Pacific in 1998.
Source: Pacific Human Development Report 1999 (UNDP,
Governments are making continuous efforts to improve infrastructure. The advent of cars, higher levels of consumption and changing lifestyles require improved levels of infrastructure. However, infrastructure for urban development such as roads, water supply, sewerage, solid waste disposal, electricity and communications is failing to keep up with the needs of the growing urban populations.
The installation of infrastructure requires considerable investment, and this is beyond the reach of most countries in the region. As well as insufficient financial resources, a number of local management issues hinder large-scale investment. These include the limited capacity for maintenance of the existing plant and, in some countries, a reluctance to adopt user-pay policies that would create possibilities for sound financial management of the investment.
Most countries in the South Pacific are well endowed with water but the level of water consumption is gradually rising in some countries, while in others there is over-consumption. In Samoa, for example, in some instances consumption levels have reached 600-700 litres per capita per day, compared to the WHO accepted average of 250 litres per capita per day. This is mainly due to uncontrolled use, waste and leaks in the network (UNCHS 1996b). The importance of conserving water resources is not fully appreciated in parts of the region where the water supply is free.
Some of the important issues of urban water supply systems in the region are given below:
In some countries, there is mismanagement of water supply systems as evidenced by leakage because of lack of maintenance, inefficient billing and poor collection of charges. Attempts to meter the water supply have often met with protests from local populations who believe that water is nature’s gift to humans and hence that they should not have to pay for it (UNCHS 1996b).
A very small proportion of the Pacific urban population has satisfactory sewage services. There are few sewage treatment plants and their coverage is limited, mainly because of the relatively large scale of investment necessary, both for the headworks and for the reticulation system. For the latter, the process of acquiring right of way for sewer lines over private properties, leased lands and unleased lands under customary tenure is cumbersome and time-consuming. In Fiji, with its long history of urban management, only 25 per cent of the population of metropolitan Suva is connected to the sewerage system (UNCHS 1992). In Papua New Guinea, only about 11 per cent of the urban population has a piped sewerage system (Connell and Lea 1993). The few successful on-site treatment solutions only operate on a small scale.
Many places use ocean outfalls for sewage disposal (Honiara, South Tarawa and Kiribati). The risks of foreshore contamination are high, with negative effects on marine resources and eventual leaching back into the freshwater lens. The lagoons beside Fanga’uta in Tonga, Port Vila, Suva and Tarawa have sufficiently high fecal coliform levels to be a public health concern.
The lack of reticulated sewerage systems has resulted in a proliferation of septic tanks and, in some cities, of pit latrines as well. In Suva, surface pollution from septic tanks in the non-sewered suburbs and pit latrines in squatter settlements causes serious public health problems. In other cities, even where soil conditions are suitable, during the rainy season septic tanks tend to overflow, causing serious health concerns in low-lying areas. In the Marshall Islands, surface pollution from septic tanks, pit latrines, and household and domestic waste contaminating the underlying water lenses is widespread.
Overall, the inadequate disposal of human waste is one of the serious environmental problems in the Pacific.
The amount of disposable solid waste is increasing as lifestyles and consumption patterns in the Pacific change to western ways, with increasing levels of non-biodegradable materials such as cans, bottles and plastics. There are very few programmes for solid waste reduction. The practice of recycling waste, such as bottle collecting, is undertaken only at a basic level. The technology required for establishing appropriate facilities for waste recycling of paper, cans and plastics is beyond the capacity of most Pacific island countries. In some cases, the volume of waste cannot be economically recycled. The usual methods of disposal are landfills, dumping on seashores, estuaries, swamps and mangroves, often resulting in polluted waterways, lagoons and water supply.
In many urban centres, even in the larger countries, suitable sites for the disposal of domestic solid waste have been difficult to obtain. In Suva, after several years of negotiations with landowners, a new disposal site just outside the city boundary, between the seashore and the main road, has replaced the existing landfill site. In Nadi, Fiji, the town council has been unable to identify a suitable site on account of the flood-prone nature of the surrounding areas and proximity to the international airport. It has come to an arrangement to use the landfill site of the neighbouring Lautoka City Council. However, this site on Crown land has been subject to regular roadblocks mounted by the native owners of adjacent lands as the public access to the site traverses customary land.
In the atoll countries, the sheer non-availability of land for disposal of solid waste is serious, as witnessed in Funafuti, Tuvalu. Community attitudes to disposal of wastes have not changed to match the nature and volume of waste that need to be managed. In the allocation of lands for different uses, solid waste disposal is a very low priority. The disposal of industrial wastes containing dangerous and illegal pollutants will become an issue as the level of industrialization increases.
Investment in urban infrastructure such as major roads, water supply and sanitation is usually financed from central government resources. In most urban centres there are severe backlogs in the expansion of existing systems and to serve new urban growth. Maintenance of the existing facilities often lags owing to lack of planning and finance and the shortage of skills. In some cases, there is inefficient use of financial resources caused by institutional problems that prevent public funds from reaching the beneficiaries who need them most. In several countries, cost recovery on services provided is limited. Wherever costs of services are charged, the richer suburbs pay the same rate as the poor ones. With the poor economic performance of most countries, there is very little or no budgetary provision for expansion of infrastructure. Financial institutions like national development banks have low capacity. The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have assessed the extent of the investment required for improving urban infrastructure in a number of cities and sound infrastructure management practices could facilitate the inflow of funds.
Urban areas in the Pacific countries face a number of environmental dangers. These include:
Environmental management is a distinct programme area in regional and national development and the South Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (SPREP) has assisted in developing national environmental protection legislation in many countries. Most countries already have national environmental management strategies and are attempting to gradually increase their institutional and human resource capacities for applying environmental management practices.
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