Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Tsunami Assistance Package

During our short time in Honiara, Rt Hon Winston Peters announced New Zealand would provide a $7.5 million assistance package to help the Western Province region recover from April’s earthquake and tsunami.

Fifty-two people died, 9000 were affected, and around 6000 homes and other buildings were damaged or destroyed. Three months later, 4000 families are still living in makeshift camps, and there is a widespread need to rebuild basic infrastructure, especially health clinics, water, sanitation, housing, roads, bridges and wharves.

New Zealand’s assistance will focus on helping to restore education, rebuild lost livelihoods – especially in fisheries – and repair homes and transport infrastructure.

Education is a natural focus for NZ assistance - NZAID is the lead donor to the primary education sector in Solomon Islands and has the strong relationships and understanding of the sector necessary to successfully support this work.

An important component of the fisheries assistance will be supporting and awareness programme to spread the message that fishing is safe and that after a terrifying event such as a tsunami people do not need to be afraid of the sea.

This is something I saw in Sri Lanka after the Asian Tsunami – many fishing villages had been provided with new fishing equipment and facilities, but no one was using them because of the fear of the sea.

As Minister Peters said when announcing the package, recovery in the tsunami zone will be a monumental task and New Zealand is happy to support the Solomon Islands Governments efforts to return people's lives to normal as soon as possible.


Between 1999-2003, Solomon Island experienced violent conflict followed by a long period of lawlessness. In 2003, the Government requested assistance from Australia, New Zealand and other Pacific Island countries, which arrived in the form of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

Military and police from Australia, New Zealand and across the Pacific were able to quickly restore security. A large number of ex-patriate personnel were also seconded to key government departments to stabilise the budget and strengthen the accountability environment within government.

Since 2003, RAMSI has focussed its efforts on restoring law and order, re-establishing the machinery of government and improving economic governance. On the security side, New Zealand's contribution consists of both military and police personnel. A small number of New Zealand public servants are also seconded to the Treasury and tax departments funded by NZAID.

Today we visited the New Zealand police and soldiers stationed at RAMSI headquarters at GBR in Honiara. It was interesting to hear the police staff talk about the very hands-on approach they are able to take in working with their Solomon Islands colleagues to improve and develop community policing.

It was also great to see the real regional nature of the mission by meeting officiers serving in RAMSI from NZ, Samoa, PNG and Australia in the morning we spent at GBR.

There are ongoing questions about its future and at times the RAMSI road is bumpy – but from all accounts RAMSI has made a very positive difference in the lives of Solomon Islanders.

First stop Honiara

Every year it is tradition for the New Zealand Foreign Minister to lead a delegation to the Pacific. This year’s group is made up of Members of Parliament, business people, NGO reps, officials, academics and media and is visiting Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands and Samoa.

This annual visit reinforces the strong relationship New Zealand has with the region and presents many opportunities for the sharing of ideas and knowledge.

Honiara, in Solomon Islands, is the delegations first stop. Solomon Islands is an archipelago of 922 islands located some 2000km north-east of Brisbane between the Equator and the Tropic of Capricorn. Most of the 550,000 people (CIA) live on six larger islands, the most populous being Malaita and Guadalcanal, where the capital, Honiara, is located. At 2.7% per annum, population growth is high, contributing to an increasing "youth bulge".

Solomon Islands is one of the poorest countries in the Pacific region. In 1999, when the last census was carried out, 21% of children under five years were underweight. Infant mortality was 66 per 1,000 live births, the worst amongst the Pacific Island countries, while under-five mortality was 73 per 1,000 live births, second only to Papua New Guinea. Primary school enrolment was 56%, the lowest in the region, while the literacy rate was 77%.

These indicators set the scene for the fact that New Zealand’s largest bilateral aid programme is focused on Solomons, particularly in education.

The afternoon we arrive, I tagged a long with the media contingent to get a sense of the city. We end up at a large concert in celebration of Independence Day – here the youthfulness of the population is very obvious, the large park is crowded with over a thousand young people enjoying music and a market – all in heavy rain!

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