By Rajat Madhok
GIZO, Solomon Islands, 22 March 2012 – The white sand beaches and emerald green waters of Solomon Islands offer the perfect setting for a holiday – but the islanders who live here are freighted with worries.
The effects of climate change are evident: sea water is rising and land productivity is declining. And Solomon Islands is no stranger to natural disasters. In 2010 alone, the Pacific islands witnessed five tropical cyclones, two volcanic eruptions and one tsunami. In 2007, an earthquake followed by a tsunami destroyed parts of Gizo, the capital of Western Province.
But these are not their only concerns. Solomon Islands is one of the poorest countries in the Pacific region, and it is still recovering from a recent civil conflict. In addition, poor inter-island connectivity impedes medical access for many residents, including access to essential maternal and child health services.
Members of the UNICEF Executive Board visited Fiji and Solomon Islands from 10 to 21 March 2012 to gain a first-hand understanding of UNICEF’s work in the Pacific island countries, including its close partnerships with government agencies and NGOs.
Viewing improved services
The delegation included Permanent Representative of Belarus to the United Nations Andrei Dapkiunas; Deputy Permanent Representative of Namibia to the United Nations Jerobeam Shaanika; Permanent Representative of Kazakhstan to the United Nations Tleuzhan Seksenbay; and Secretary of the UNICEF Executive Board Nicolas Pron. They were escorted by UNICEF Representative to the Pacific Islands Isiye Ndombi, and met with senior government officials in both countries, including Prime Minister of Solomon Islands Gordon Darcy Lilo.
They visited schools in Gizo that had been damaged by the 2007 earthquake and were rebuilt with support from donors and UNICEF. They also visited a provincial hospital in Gizo had been damaged by the tsunami. With UNICEF assistance, the hospital offers programmes on reproductive health activities, breastfeeding and counselling. UNICEF is also helping the hospital expand birth registration coverage. The facility has been declared ‘mother-baby friendly’.
On a visit to Vella la Vella Island, the group experienced first-hand the problems with inter-island connectivity: They travelled 40 minutes by boat to the island, and had to wade through water to reach land. Once there, they walked along a gravel path to the only medical facility in the area. UNICEF has equipped the facility and trained its staff, and is supporting its expanded immunization services, improved prenatal and delivery care, and HIV prevention programmes.
The delegation also visited a primary and secondary school that were destroyed in the 2007 earthquake, which have since been rebuilt with UNICEF help. Before leaving the island, delegates had an opportunity to interact with community leaders, who expressed gratitude to UNICEF for helping rebuild the school and equip the medical health facility.
At a health clinic in Honiara, the capital of Solomon Islands, the delegation saw the successful implementation of UNICEF immunization, breastfeeding and HIV counseling programmes.
As the visit came to an end, the delegation commended UNICEF staff on their visible dedication and efficiency. They took note of the creative efforts of UNICEF, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) to share hosting responsibilities for the joint UN presence across eight Pacific island countries. This cost-effective approach has opened channels for close coordination with governments and improved development results for the islanders.
The delegation also praised the high degree of preparedness shown by UNICEF in responding to emergencies like the 2007 earthquake and tsunami in Gizo, and applauded its close work with communities.
"It is very important that both UNICEF and other international donors, when providing assistance… ensure that the assistance given lays the foundation for sustainable change in the communities that we aim to help,” said Mr. Dapkiunas. “Donors should never come in place of the communities."