AS everyone living in Fiji, or any other island country, knows, the Pacific Islands region is a special place. We're surrounded by benefits, our communities, our cultures, our land and sea, that people in other parts of the world can only dream about. But as we're all too often reminded, island life has special challenges.
On 6 February 2013, Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) celebrated its 66th anniversary, a celebration of a long and successful partnership with Pacific Island people and our 26 member countries and territories.
In Suva, however, our plans for a gathering to mark the occasion were disrupted by a tsunami warning that was also broadcast in many other parts of the Pacific. As we soon learnt, an earthquake had struck off the coast of the Santa Cruz Islands in Solomon Islands with tragic results. We extend our deepest sympathy to all those suffering loss and hardship as a result.
Recognising the vulnerability of the Pacific Islands to natural disasters, SPC supports their efforts to prepare for such events and plan for the aftermath.
Since it was founded as an international organisation in 1947 soon after World War II by Australia, France, Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and United States of America, SPC has become the region's principal technical and scientific organisation.
With around 580 staff, 68 per cent of whom are Pacific Islanders, it now delivers technical, scientific, research, policy and training support to Pacific Island countries and territories in fisheries, agriculture, forestry, water resources, geoscience, transport, energy, disaster risk management, public health, statistics, education, human rights, gender, youth and culture.
These services are delivered on a regional or national basis depending on need. For example, SPC's services in managing and developing natural resources are of interest to all our members. Others such as the European Union-funded project , Improving Key Services to Agriculture Fiji , target specific country needs.
One of the key strengths of SPC's services is its ability to take an integrated approach that combines work across sectors. Another important strength is the partnership we have developed with our member countries and territories over many years. As a bilingual (English and French) organisation, SPC is able to work with all 22 of its Pacific Island country and territory members.
I would like to pay tribute to all our island members for their continuous support for our work and for their patience as well as for their expressions of appreciation for the services we provide to them that benefit their people.
I also pay tribute to our four remaining metropolitan members (Australia, France, New Zealand and USA), which had the collective vision to create SPC, and for their valuable financial support and commitment.
Our development partners are also owed a debt of gratitude for working with us to assist the people of this region. In particular, the European Union and Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria make a significant contribution.
As we celebrate SPC's 66 years of service, we also remember those who came before us. We are humbled by the knowledge that many great Pacific leaders took a strong interest in SPC.
This tradition is maintained today by many current leaders, who made the decision to reform the regional institutional framework with the aim of achieving more effective and co-ordinated delivery of regional services. As part of this goal, we greatly value our partnerships with other Pacific-based and international organisations.
Last year a wide-ranging independent external review of SPC found that 'for many client Pacific Island countries and territories, SPC's provision of services is not an option, it is an imperative'.
Let me finish therefore by highlighting just a few examples of recent achievements by our technical programs that have tremendous positive impacts for the well-being and livelihoods of Pacific Island people.
nDeveloping a regional legislative and regulatory framework for deep sea minerals to assist countries in developing legislation and policy
nEnhancing food security through developing and supplying 'climate ready' planting material for crop varieties that are either 'salt-tolerant' or 'flood resistant'
nConducting regional-wide stock assessments, bio-economic modelling, data collection and research on the region's most valuable renewable resource , its tuna fishery
nCarrying out an EU-funded sustainable energy project in the North Pacific giving thousands of people access to clean affordable energy
nMaintaining the Pacific Public Health Surveillance Network to provide an early warning system for disease surveillance
nTraining in maritime compliance auditing and conducting audits, including port security audits
nSupporting the development of national policy and planning frameworks for water, sanitation and hygiene
nSupporting national efforts to improve women's rights, including addressing the low number of women in parliament, penal codes on violence, and discrimination at work
nSupporting teacher effectiveness through providing competency modules that emphasise literacy and numeracy awareness in assessing children's learning progress.
Over the past 66 years, SPC has worked to meet the needs and priorities of its island members. This remains our calling as we look to the future of our region.
Speech by Dr Jimmie Rodgers,
Secretariat of the Pacific Community