Hope For The Best…
The Republic of Vanuatu is an archipelago of more than one hundred islands floating in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean; all of these islands combined would roughly equal the land area of Connecticut and Rhode Island together. As a Small Island Developing State the people and the government of Vanuatu face numerous challenges towards their environmental, social, and economic development. While it’s true that their natural resource base is constrained by their terrestrial boundaries, there is no reason why these resources could not be used wisely and improve both their human and financial resources in the process. The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development is attempting to address this very issue, but I am eager to see how the agreements decided here in Rio will affect the lives of those in the local villages of Vanuatu. How will this meeting directly improve the livelihood of those people, on whose behalf great sums of money have been spent for the international community to meet and work these past many months?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to live and work in the some of the local communities of Vanuatu for several years. During this time I shared in the Ni-Vanuatu culture and lifestyle, and grew to appreciate and admire their intimacy with nature and their connection with one another. Healthy ecological systems and strong social structures have provided the Ni-Vanuatu people with a relatively high standard of living despite their status as a Least Developed Country (In 2006 Vanuatu was named the “happiest country on Earth” by the Happy Planet Index). However, this environmental and social “safety net” is quickly being eroded by a growing population and an increasing desire to “modernize” (i.e. a swelling consumer culture). A green economy and sustainable use of natural resources could help to maintain a lifestyle that the majority of the Ni-Vanuatu have become accustomed to.
In addition, I had the opportunity to work with both provincial level and national level government offices. I was able to observe how these offices struggle to provide services to local communities, while at the same time cooperating with international agencies and organizations. I’ve jumped through numerous administrative hoops myself in order to try to implement programs at the local level. Now I am at the Rio+20 conference and I have the unique position to observe how the international community creates the objectives that guide agencies and organizations the world over.
As a member of the Vanuatu delegation I am allowed a “behind the scenes” glimpse of this process. This grand negotiation process is now an interactive one for me and a much more valuable learning experience. I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to work with The Republic of Vanuatu at the local, national, and now international level. I am hoping for the best, but in reality I know that the outcome of the conference will please few and disappoint many. But if there is no tangible progress; no compromises made at the end of this long process, the real losers will be all those in whose name this conference has been held.