OPENING MESSAGES AT THE 31ST ANNUAL SESSION OF THE SOUTH

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SOUTH PACIFIC APPLIED GEOSCIENCE COMMISSION (SOPAC) GOVERNING COUNCIL 31ST ANNUAL SESSION Suva, Fiji Islands

Press Release September 30, 2002

PACIFIC APPLIED GEOSCIENCE COMMISSION (SOPAC), HOSTED BY THE GOVERNMENT OF NAURU
IN SUVA, FIJI

Set our own house in order first before blaming others for our problems, was the key message from Alfred Simpson, the Director at the opening of the 31st Annual Session of the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) in Suva on 27th, September 2002. 

While many of the issues such as global warming, potential sea level rise, nuclear testing and over fishing by other states are externally imposed risks, the Pacific could sound like the 'Captain of the Titanic blaming the iceberg for his misfortune' if we do not make an effort to steer the region in the right direction. Instead, the Pacific Island Countries could make a start by addressing some of the basic issues that plague the people of the region.  

Mr. Simpson pointed out that the Pacific Ocean covers 98% of the national jurisdictions of the region and yet there are no coordinated Ocean Policies at the national levels. National Plans for development continue to be driven by land-based activities and resources even when the Ocean holds the brightest prospect for our future. Our marine environment is threatened by land-based sources of pollution as only 10% of the Pacific population has access to sewerage systems. Availability of freshwater, access to energy and affordable information and communication technologies are all emerging areas of concern. 

He also stated that the Pacific region has the highest concentration of natural hazards and the threat to societies is increasing with rapid urbanisation and deterioration of the resilience of traditional societies. It is estimated that by 2020, 50% of Pacific Islanders will live in cities and unless we plan ahead there would be tremendous problems arising out of a lack of access to basic necessities, infrastructure and opportunities, and rising exposure to risks and crime.  

Mr. Simpson reminded the gathering of more than 100 delegates and representatives from around the region that these issues would continue to plague the region, unless the Pacific Island Countries, regional organisations, development agencies and civil society discard the current fragmented approach and embraced a strategic approach and better coordination. Cosmetic changes in our attitudes or rhetoric emanating from regional and global Summits will have no impact unless we change the way we govern ourselves.  

He also congratulated the Prime Minister of Fiji for his timely speech at the UN General Assembly, but pointed out that we need more people to champion our basic needs at every level. Until we can assure basic a decent quality of life, security and opportunities to our citizens, we cannot reap the benefits of trade and globalisation.  

Delegates from the 18 member countries of SOPAC, donor agencies, regional organisations and other development partners are attending the 31st Annual Session hosted by the Government of Nauru at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. The meeting was opened by Mr. Remy Namaduk, Honourable Minister Assisting the President of the Republic of Nauru. In his inaugural address, Mr Namaduk reminded the region of the need for a long-term vision and focus on Sustainable Development. Focussing on just economic development at the expense of social and environmental integrity is likely to court disaster. He thanked SOPAC for its support to the development process in Nauru and expressed the hope that it would continue to provide valuable scientific and technical inputs to the region. 

The Meeting will be closing on Wednesday 2nd October 2002 after a week of active debate and discussion of SOPAC's important work within the Pacific. 

Please check the SOPAC Annual Session website for regular updates of discussions and outcomes: http://conf.sopac.org/ and http://www.sopac.org/ 

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