GIVE SUWARROW ATOLL TO THE WORLD: WWF ADVISOR

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By Jason Brown

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (December 13, 2000 – Cook Islands News)---Give Suwarrow to the world. The world may give something back.

Like what? "Debt for equity swaps," suggests Dr. Richard Brown, an adviser with the World Wide Fund for Nature or WWF.

Debt for equity would see government hand over control of Suwarrow to a world body for management as a wildlife haven. In return, foreign governments might agree to arrange for debts to be written off or somehow lessened.

"If there is a resource that is valued beyond the confines of a country it becomes a matter for the international community, not just member states," Brown told participants at a WWF workshop on green economics at the Pukapuka Hostel in Tupapa yesterday.

Suwarrow is recognized as an almost pristine breeding colony whose stock replenishes bird populations well outside the Cook Islands. WWF recently named the Cook Islands under two categories — species and marine — as one of the world’s 200 most important "ecoregions" needing priority attention.

"It’s all very well that we value the existence of a resource (like Suwarrow) but are world governments prepared to put their money where their mouth is?" Brown asked yesterday.

Strong Case

An associate professor with the Department of Economics at the University of Queensland, Brown said he would argue there is a "strong case" for saying foreign organizations would value a site like Suwarrow.

"World Heritage Parks are an example where national governments are prepared to hand over rights to a global body."

Instead of immediate returns from a potentially damaging project like a pearl farm, a government might look at long term benefits like "bio-prospecting," said Brown.

This is where scientists examine coral, for example, for life saving properties.

Debt relief in return for protecting Suwarrow in cooperation with a world body would bring far less environmental risk to the atoll.

Total public borrowing stands at NZ$ 117 million (US$ 49.359 million), with debt payments and interest costing the country NZ$ 3.9 million (US$ 1.645 million) this year, according to budget estimates. Looked at another way, the money spent on public debt is equal to 1,020 jobs at minimum wage.

Rock Lobster

Suwarrow is at the center of a row between government and environmentalists over a plan by an Australian company to develop pearl farming on the uninhabited atoll — and tuna fishing in the north. The Rock Lobster Company of Adelaide, South Australia has not responded to emails from Cook Islands News for details of their plan.

But sources say an initially impressive sounding NZ$ 60 million (US$ 25.312 million) project is in fact spread over 60 years, or a million a year. This is far less than yearly debt and interest repayments.

For additional reports from the Cook Islands News Online, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Cook Islands News Online.

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