Sustainability Challenges for SDGs in the Pacific

States and small islands in the Pacific face a different set of sustainability challenges.

Highlighting sustainability challenges in The Pacific

Achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is no easy feat for any country. The recently published SDG16 in the Pacific report highlights some of the sustainability challenges on the road to peace.

Sustainable Development Goal 16, Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, has been identified as a particularly important goal for the Pacific region.

Pacific countries’ small size, remoteness, environmental challenges, heightened frequency of natural disasters, exposure to external economic shocks and small but rapidly increasing populations present challenges.

Further, the shifting geopolitical balance in the region and border-transcending crime presents a new challenge for border security.

As the region confronts many existing and emerging sustainability challenges, strong institutions that ensure justice and promote peace will not only reduce violence, but also foster the social structures and attitudes that create an environment where Pacific Islanders can flourish.

1. Conflict and intercommunal violence

In part due to the absence of shared land borders that could be contested, Pacific Island countries have maintained good relations with neighbouring countries. There are significant flows of people and trade between the countries in the Pacific yet interstate conflict has not occurred.

However, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands have both experienced substantial violent conflict. As recently as 2012, the Akul and Kambrip tribes in the Enga Province in Papua New Guinea were embroiled in armed conflict, leading to 57 deaths.

Capturing conflict and intercommunal violence is significant for the promotion of peace in the future. Since 1945, over half of countries globally that experienced civil conflict relapsed into conflict.

This highlights the need to remain vigilant to prevent re-occurrence of conflict as Pacific countries work towards the SDGs.

2. Interpersonal violence

One of the most prevalent forms of violence in the Pacific is intimate partner violence and violence against women. Intimate partner violence and violence against women takes the form of both physical and sexual violence.

Interpersonal violence carries significant social and economic costs to a society and if not addressed properly, can undermine the trust and legitimacy of justice institutions that SDG16 aims to promote.

Fiji had the highest percentage of women reporting physical violence at over 60%, whereas Solomon Islands had the highest reports of sexual violence at 55%. As data on violence against women is underreported, the actual rates of violence against women are higher than surveys suggest.

3. The youth bulge

The Pacific region has a disproportionately young population, identified as a “youth bulge”. Melanesia has the highest proportion of population under 24, at 44%, compared to the global rate of 24%.

Given the right circumstances, a youth bulge can be an engine for economic development, growth and innovation. However, the average rates of youth unemployment is 23%, which is nearly double the global average of 12.6%.

Without opportunities for education, employment or self-expression, a large youthful population can be a catalyst for crime, violence and susceptibility to radical ideology. The way a community responds to a youth bulge can either promote Positive Peace, or contribute to conflict.

4. Exclusion and inequality

Young people, women, people with mental and physical disability and the elderly are particularly prone to exclusion in the Pacific.

Political exclusion, along with imbalances access to resources, are known as forms of “slow violence” which can erode human security in the region. Vanuatu, the Federated States of Micronesia and Papua New Guinea have zero women in Parliament.

Exclusion and inequality are significant challenges to the SDGs, especially SDG5 which relates to achieving gender equality, and SDG10, relating to reduce inequalities.

The SDGs aim to stimulate all members and cornerstones of a community, therefore exclusion because of gender, health, mental or physical disabilities or age inhibit the achievement of the SDGs.

5. Environmental Concerns

The high prevalence of environmental events and emerging threats of climate change present a pertinent challenge for the region.

The 2017 World Risk Report measures the risk of an extreme natural event leading to a disaster. It also identified five Pacific Islands among the 15 most vulnerable countries in the world.

Kiribati is a prime example of environmental risk. The country’s islands average at just two metres above sea level, leaving the nation threatened by rising sea levels that could lead to mass displacement.

Further, the country’s highly porous soil can result in bore water becoming contaminated by human remains, human and animal waste, and increased salinity from rising sea levels.

6. Socio-economic and demographic profile

Many people have shifted from traditional ways of living to urban environments. In cities, they have greater interactions with formal economy and formal governance. Now, one in four Pacific Islanders is an urban resident.

As the demographic and economic profile is increasingly integrated with the global community, there is a greater risk of prospective impacts from global economic shocks.

Nearly half of urban populations in Melanesia live in informal settlements. The risk of any rapid change has the potential to derail stability through a competition for sources of food, resources, or safety.

SDG 11, sustainable cities and communities, is at risk, if infrastructure cannot respond to the population growth and changing demographic profile.The population across the Pacific is predicted to increase by 50-82% by 2050.

Border security issues

An evolving international order sparked by economic growth in Asia, as well as a commitment to tackling transnational organised crime, terrorism and violent extremism contribute to the way borders are negotiated in the region.

Induced by rising sea-levels, the maritime boundaries of each country could become contested and potentially destabilise peace in the region. Although each country has small land mass, they are each custodians to vast ocean area.

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