The Returning Pacific Heads of Mission (HOM) Breakfast attracted a wide audience in Auckland on May 27.The event held was hosted for New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) officials by the Pacific Cooperation Foundation (PCF) attracting a good mix of some 120 guests from the private sector, non-government organisations and government representatives. All were keen to learn more about the Pacific islands and to do some networking.
Each HOM gave a brief update on behalf of their office reporting on the country’s economy; identifying the opportunities and challenges faced by their respective countries. Very clear difficulties were faced by islands such as Tuvalu and Kiribati faced with rising sea levels and other climate change challenges. Other countries such as Fiji and Vanuatu were still dealing with the aftermath of major cyclones that destroyed homes and livelihoods in large parts of the community.
Niue’s Head of Mission Ross Ardern reported the success of Niue’s fantastic rise in tourism. The Matavai Hotel, now under the Scenic Hotels Group has increased room inventory from 40 to 52 and is developing a new conference centre. Two weekly flights continue through the busy season, cutting back to one flight weekly off peak. Tourism was the only game in town he said. Opportunities for potential investment however, existed in power and energy, upgrading the airport and the wharf to allow for the larger cruise ships.
NZ High Commissioner to Vanuatu Georgina Roberts reminded the audience of the long term effects cyclones have on the islands and the length of time it takes to recover from such an event. Although Fiji was now recovering from Cyclone Winston in February this year, Vanuatu still had not fully returned to normal from Cyclone Pam that struck last year on March 13 2015. The country suffered winds gusts of up to 320km per hour, an estimated 75,000 people left homeless and 11 people who lost their lives as it was the islands were still struggling to return to their pre-cyclone state. But tourism was still the best source of income for Vanuatu and people could best assist the country by visiting.
NZ Head of Mission in Kiribati Don Higgins reported a number of significant infrastructural development projects currently being undertaken in Kiribati. One of the other main projects was the land reclamation project in Tarawa that will add an extra 330 hectares to raise land up to two metres above sea level. The ongoing project was being undertaken with development partners.
The country was already dealing with high tides causing coastal erosion and contamination of drinking water through salt water and sewage.
The other Pacific Heads of Mission were Tony Fautua (PNG), Mark Ramsden (Fiji), Justin Fepulea’i (New Caledonia), Marion Crawshaw (Solomon Islands), Jackie Frizelle (Samoa), Sarah Walshe (Tonga), Nick Hurley (Cook Islands) and Linda Te Puni (NZ based) to Tuvalu and administrator to Tokelau.