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Banking on ourselves

Dirk Jena
Tuesday, September 04, 2012

IT seems that the season of the big meetings has started in the Pacific though of course one could wonder whether such seasons ever stops, apart from the period that goes with end-of-year.

Resolutions and communiques are passed at a regularity and with a ceremonial protocol befitting the kava preparing and drinking customs of some of our islands countries.

To put it with the usual disclaimer of Boutros Boutros-Gali, the Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1992 to 1996, the costs of these meetings are but a fraction of what one armoured vehicle costs and is certainly a most justified investment for a peaceful world where an exponentially increasing number of people have to live a life in a condition that we consider decent, at least from a human rights point of view.

Lately the region South-East of the Mediterranean Sea have been testing the truth in Boutros-Gali's statement to the extent that the inclusiveness as well as the frequency of such meetings is of primordial importance as it often does not sufficiently pay off if it's yet another meeting among the like-minded.

The United Nations system ought to be able to thereby add the nuances that are required to put human realities in a global perspective as those realities are always more complex than the parties or allies involved want to think they are.

I was particularly encouraged that the Nadi communiqué coming out of the Engaging with the Pacific meeting gives due attention to culturalism, regionalism, spiritualism as well as communalism versus individualism and the particular values that go with a life on the small islands of the vast Pacific Ocean.

These viewpoints are dearly missing in the development thinking that governs the Pacific for the past couple of decades, and it is a pleasant turn of events to see that these components that make development truly human and sustainable are brought to the kava bowl by faith-based and environmental conservation organisations.

The former emphasise that Pacific cultural and hospitable values should not in any way be abused, and the latter emphasises that it is high time to look 'beyond the ordinary' and focus on the development of Pacific values - which stands for empowerment - rather than on the management of vulnerabilities which stands for dependency.

This brings me to the dichotomy of two economic development models which can best be depicted by planning and action models. The Planning Model starts from a unity in world view, which is rather typical for societies who give priority to maintaining harmony. The Action Model however starts from complexity, which is rather typical for societies who favour science as the highest good.

Both of the models go with the promotion of a different lifestyle whereby the former believes in accumulation and the latter encourages consumption; the former yields well-being and the latter yields welfare.

What transpired from the recent big meetings is that the Pacific island states find themselves alternating between both models without yet arriving at a workable alternative. The Pacific Conference of Churches - more aligned with the Planning Model - and the International Union for Conservation of Nature - more aligned with the Action Model - do however formulate thoughts which would allow the Pacific islander to live a sustainable life based on regeneration, rather than a wealthy life based on exploitation.

In the former, we shall belong, we shall be respected as the member of a group, be a contributor and resource planner and manager, thereby signing on for sustainability based on regeneration, for saving as it were.

In the latter, we shall be an achieving but footloose individual, a unit at the labour market, a per capita in the financial statistics, a consumer, thereby signing on for unsustainability based on exploitation, for wasting as it were.

At the United Nations Population Fund Pacific sub-regional office, we very much favour meetings that include all parties, such as during last year's Lami meeting for a technical consultation on advocacy for population and development; it brought together the essential Pacific gatekeepers which is a unique blend of parliamentarians, faith-based leaders and chiefs.

These meetings teach us to conceptualise programmes of co-operation beyond the generic so that the Planning Model stands a chance, not only for the well-being of the Pacific islander but for the benefit of Mother Earth.

* Dirk Jena is the director and representative of the United Nations Population Fund Pacific sub-regional office.

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