The term ‘subsistence affluence’ is still used to describe a popular view of living conditions in the Pacific – a vision of a tranquil paradise where the residents might not be overly rich, but have decent living standards.
But that is simply wrong.
It is also the reason Deakin University’s Alfred Deakin Research Institute (ADRI) has partnered with Sustineo, an Australian firm with a specific focus on social and economic development projects and programs both domestically and internationally, to help ensure the future growth of Pacific nations.
The research project, which has been funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant of $153,222 over four years, is called “Supporting Pacific Development”.
“While no one dies of hunger in the Pacific, it is in deep trouble from a development perspective,” says Professor Mark McGillivray from ADRI.
“In recent decades the region has experienced the lowest and most volatile economic growth of any region of developing countries, including sub-Saharan Africa.”
Poverty is increasing in the Pacific and approximately 2.7 million people, one-third of the region’s population, live in poverty, without the income to satisfy their basic human needs.
Compounding all that:
- more than 400,000 children are not enrolled in primary school;
- seven out of every 100 children die before their fifth birthday, and;
- at least 80,000 adults have HIV with the rate of infection growing by more than 40 percent per year, the fastest of any region of the world.
“These conditions are of significant and growing concern among the international donor community, Australia and New Zealand included,” Professor McGillivray said.
“Australia has committed itself to helping Pacific Island countries achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and over the coming years will more than double official development aid to the region.”
However, at current rates of progress the best performing Pacific countries will achieve no more than three or four of the seven developing country MDGs.
“Some countries will achieve none and only Vanuatu will achieve the core goal, MDG1, of halving the number of people living in poverty by 2015,’ Professor McGillivray said.
“The Pacific can be expected to, and will almost certainly display, the worst MDG performance of all regions in the world.
“This is very troubling to not only Australia and New Zealand but to all of the many nations providing aid to the Pacific Islands, made all the worse by the fact that, relative to the size of their economies, these countries receive among the largest amounts of aid in the world.”
That means, Professor McGillivray said, that the taxpayers of donor nations can legitimately question whether their taxes are being well spent when it comes to aid to the Pacific.
“There are two key lessons from this for the donor nations which are only just starting to grapple meaningfully with the issues,” he said.
“The first is that there are limits to what can be achieved with development aid: simply pouring more and more aid into the Pacific, however well intended and incrementally effective, cannot alone guarantee development in the region.
“The second lesson stems from the first. It is that donor nations need to support other ways of achieving development in the Pacific.
“Recognition of these lessons is not to necessarily say that aid has been unable to promote development in the Pacific – there is empirical evidence to suggest that it has been moderately successful in this regard – just that it alone is not enough.”
Against this background, the research collaboration between Deakin and Sustineo looks at rich country support specifically for development in PNG and the Pacific through their efforts in these seven drivers:
- private investment
- the creation and dissemination of new technologies
- the promotion of environmental sustainability in the region
Development is defined as a process that results in sustained and broad-based improvements in the quality of life of the citizens of Pacific Island countries.
The Pacific Island nations involved are:
- Cook Islands
- Federated States of Micronesia
- Marshall Islands
- Papua New Guinea
- Solomon Islands
The research aims to produce a multidimensional index that will rank the 22 donor countries that are members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) on the basis of the seven drivers of development.
The index, called the Supporting Pacific Development Index (SPDI) will provide an overall summary assessment, as well as rankings based on each of these drivers.
“The SPDI will then highlight and give due credit to those DAC donor countries that are doing the most for development specifically in the Pacific,” said Dr David Carpenter, Principal Consultant – International Development at Sustineo.
“It will also show which countries are doing the least, highlighting the areas in which they do particularly poorly relative to others.
“As such it not only provides an analysis of rich country support but also a basis for policy advocacy, holding rich countries to account for their often repeated public commitments to support development in poor countries, in this case in the Pacific.”