Anyone who has traveled the islands of Micronesia will have stories to tell.
Giff Johnson, editor of the Marshall Islands Journal, has put together a gem of a book that ought to be required reading for aspiring government officials of any ilk, non-governmental organization officials overseeing grants or funds and any businessperson planning to spend time in the islands of Micronesia. And it is full of stories.
Recounting a number of successes as well as failures, Johnson takes readers on a broad review of the administration of the plentiful aid, corruption in the islands and why it happens, migration of islanders and why they leave, and more.
“Many government workers are off-island a third to half of the year for regional or international meetings,” he writes. “One might reasonably wonder how government employees mandated to implement, for example, health improvement or energy-related projects have time to do their work when they are traveling so often. A diplomat based in Fiji told me recently that the Forum Secretariat sponsors 60 meetings a year. Then there is the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Community, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program, Forum Fisheries Agency, South Pacific Tourism Association and other so-called CROP agencies all have their lists of meetings that require the attention of government officials. And this makes no mention of donor countries and institutions such as the Asian Development Bank, World Bank and International Monetary Fund, all of which host a variety of meetings requiring attendants of officials and leaders …”
While Johnson has most experience in the Marshall Islands, the book also incorporates some examples for the other islands, such as the famous Weno road project in Chuuk.
The major industry in Micronesia is tuna fishing and its export. As world supplies of fish in general and tuna in particular dwindle, in a relatively rare example of success in the Pacific, the Parties to the Nauru Agreement and its eight member nations are beginning to ensure that supply is monitored and revenue comes to the members.
Still, the level of fishing threatens stocks, despite Exclusive Economic Zones in the region. Johnson’s explanation of the economics behind the number of fishing days and the price of them is worth the pages devoted to it.
Johnson also looks at the health of Marshalls citizens — whether through the lingering effects of the Bikini Atoll bomb testing in the 1950s or pervasive non-communicable illnesses in Micronesia, such as diabetes.
No serious book about Micronesia would be complete without a look at the effects of climate change on the region.
And if you have visited the Marshall Islands, it is obvious how fragile the eco-system is and how easy saltwater intrusion has become in the low-lying atolls that comprise the country. The specter of intrusion also affects Kiribati, the Maldives and Fiji and is responsible for a population shift to urban areas of those countries.
As Johnson says, any interventions need data to support them: “Whether it’s addressing regular inundation events or looking at longer-term erosion trends — in the form of studies and surveys — so government decision makers have relevant information on which to base decisions. As the cost of emergency responses rises, this will be an increasingly critical need for small islands focusing on mitigation and building resistance.”
Johnson also provides a further reading list at the back of his book, for those new to the Micronesia region who wish to understand its history.