Wednesday, July 18, 2007

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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