MT. LAUREL, New Jersey — New The World Bank estimates that 2.3 million people live in the Pacific Island region, which makes up 15% of the world’s surface. Ranging from populations of over 900,000 to just 11,000, these culturally and linguistically diverse nations face similar challenges. Changes in the climate and natural disasters are disproportionately affecting these less-developed nations as they have poorer infrastructure and a lower sea level than other countries. Furthermore, their lack of access to major trade with the outside world played a role in increasing the severity of the COVID pandemic.
One out of four citizens in these small island developing states (SIDS) is living below the national poverty line, according to the United Nations. Furthermore, gender equality is disproportionate with unemployment affecting twice the number of women as men, a high presence of violence against women and a 7.7% average female representation in national parliaments.
Nonetheless, the United States continues to make efforts to alleviate poverty in the Pacific Islands.
From 2012 to 2022, the State Department claims that the United States contributed over $1.5 billion to the Pacific region in aid or strategic assistance to fight poverty. Specifically, this aid is directed toward economic development, environmental strengthening, poverty relief, gender equality and government structuring. Although recent involvement has been hindered by COVID-19 travel restrictions, there is no indication that support will slow down.
Regarding political order and structure, the State Department has provided aid through its Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL), Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP) and Global Engagement Center (GEC). These institutions have pledged $8 million to establish democratic governance, prevent corruption and limit international interference or disinformation in the region. Furthermore, they support independent media and free journalism.
The State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs (OES) provides grants to finance local environmental protection projects in the SIDS, helping reduce environmental poverty in the Pacific Islands and increasing accessibility to drinking water. Finally, the State Department also provides fellowships and educational opportunities for children and teenagers in the Pacific.
The Peace Corps is another organization with a large role in the region, providing on-the-ground assistance to recover from natural disasters. Through the PREPARE program, numerous US organizations and institutes are supporting The Local2030 Islands Network. This network is operated between the SIDS and provides environmental analysis and research to fight the climate crisis in the region.
Finally, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is partnering with regional bodies to fight for disability accessibility, disaster relief, and the Strengthening Democratic Governance in the Pacific Islands (SDGPI) project. Through USAID, the US government has provided $100 million for five natural disasters since 2008. In 2019’s Typhoon Wutip, a collective of $30 million was used to rebuild communities and restore the environment. Along with other initiatives, USAID claims to have donated upwards of $500 million in the past decade, as of 2023.
As of 2022, the current White House administration pledged an additional $810 million in financial assistance to the Pacific region. Beyond the diplomatic connections this involvement creates, it establishes a USAID mission in Suva and reintroduces Peace Corps missions in Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu. Approximately $23 million will specifically help combat climate change and specialized research and data collection. This is reinforced by the administration’s plan to work with Congress and pass the Resilient Blue Economies program to solidify and disaster-proof the Pacific economies.
The United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) will commit $400 million to infrastructure strengthening and modernization.
Over $5 million will be committed to creating a safe internet and connecting citizens of the islands to the rest of the world.
Collectively, this assistance will alleviate climate poverty in the Pacific Islands and damages caused by natural disasters, while connecting and modernizing the Pacific public to the rest of the world.
As this decade continues, the United States is still pledging assistance to the Pacific region. Continued cooperation through the form of organizations and aid will alleviate the high rate of poverty in the Pacific Islands, disaster-proof the micronations from climate change and improve gender equality.
– Sahib Singh