UNICEF Executive Board Solomon Islands, Assessing UNICEF's Work in the Pacific Islands
The white sand beaches and emerald green water of the Solomon Islands in the Pacific is a perfect place for a holiday, but the islanders who live in these parts are a worried people - the impact of climate change is evident, sea water is rising and as a result land productivity is reducing. In 2010 alone, the Pacific islands witnessed five tropical cyclones, two volcanic eruptions and one tsunami. In 2007, an earthquake followed by a tsunami destroyed parts of the Solomon Islands including parts of Gizo, the capital of its Western Province. But climate change is not the only concern for the people of Solomon Islands, a nation which has recently come out of a civil conflict. There are relatively high levels of maternal and new born deaths, difficult access to medical facilities due to poor inter-island connectivity and the double-burden of under-nutrition and infectious diseases on the one hand and non-communicable diseases, including over-nutrition or obesity on the other hand makes matters worse for these islanders.
Members of the UNICEF Executive Board comprising of H.E. Mr. Andrei Dapkiunas, Permanent Representative of Belarus to the United Nations; Mr. Jerobeam Shaanika, Minister Counselor, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Namibia to the United Nations; Mr. Tleuzhan Seksenbay, Counselor, Permanent Mission of Kazakhstan to the United Nations and Mr. Nicolas Charles Pron, Secretary of the UNICEF Executive Board, visited Fiji and Solomon Islands from 10 to 21 March 2012. The aim of the mission was to gain a first-hand understanding of UNICEF's work in these Pacific Island Countries including its close association with government and NGO partners. The delegation was escorted by UNICEF's Representative to the Pacific Islands, Dr Isiye Ndombi and the members met with senior government officials in both countries including the honorable Prime Minister of Solomon Islands Mr Gordon Darcy Lilo.
The delegation visited schools in Gizo that were damaged by the 2007 earthquake and reconstructed with the help of generous donors and UNICEF support. To show their gratitude, children in these schools performed traditional dances and thanked UNICEF for helping them rebuild their lives. The members also visited a provincial hospital in Gizo that was destroyed by the Tsunami. With UNICEF's support and assistance, the hospital is now running programmes on reproductive health activities as well as breastfeeding and counselling. Delegates were also impressed by an innovative method initiated by UNICEF to expand the coverage of birth registration. The provincial hospital has also been declared 'mother-baby friendly'.
The team got a sense of the difficulties in access to far flung areas when on a visit to Vonunu village on Vella la Vella Island, the delegation had to travel by boat for forty minutes and then jump into the water to get to land. Once in the island, the members walked on a gravel path to reach the only medical facility in the area which has been equipped and its staff trained by UNICEF. UNICEF's involvement in the health clinic has resulted in improved services for patients in EPI, Safe Motherhood, postnatal care and Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV/AIDS (PMTCT). The delegation also visited a primary and secondary school which was completely devastated by the 2007 earthquake. Under its Recovery Action and Rehabilitation project, UNICEF built the school and now children are back in the classrooms. The delegates interacted with children and were impressed by their prompt responses and soccer playing skills. Before leaving the island, the delegates had an opportunity to interact with community leaders who expressed gratitude to UNICEF for helping set up the school and medical health facility.
On a visit to a health clinic in Kukum, a settlement on the outskirts of Honiara, the capital of Solomon Islands, the delegation was happy to see the successful implementation of UNICEF's programmes in EPI, Breastfeeding, and HIV Counseling. Whilst HIV prevalence is low in the country, very high teenage pregnancy rates, pervasive gender-based violence and high prevalence of non-HIV sexually transmitted infections suggest that there are serious concerns around the possible rise in numbers of those affected with HIV. UNICEF is working closely with its government partners to address this concern.
As the visit came to an end, the delegation was impressed with the work done by UNICEF in the region and complimented its staff on dedication, hard work and efficiency, especially in critical sectors of mother and child health, education, and child protection. The delegation was appreciative of the high degree of preparedness and initiative of UNICEF in the region in responding to emergencies like the 2007 earthquake and tsunami in Gizo.
The delegation also took note of the creative efforts of UNICEF, UNDP and UNFPA to share hosting responsibilities for UN Joint Presence offices across 8 Pacific Island Countries. This cost-effective approach has opened channels for close coordination with governments and better development results for Pacific people.
The head of the delegation, H.E. Mr. Andrei Dapkiunas, Permanent Representative of Belarus to the United Nations said that UNICEF is working very closely with the communities and should support them with sustained development, "It is very important that both UNICEF and other international donors when providing assistance, they do their best, they take utmost care to ensure that the assistance given lays the foundation for sustainable change in the communities that we aim to help, that donors should never come in place of the communities."