Closing the Distance: Investing in the Pacific Transport Sector

Feature | 17 February 2014

Island countries in the Pacific need a strong transport sector to support economic growth. ADB's transport strategy in the region focuses on improving access to markets and social services and building integrated transport systems.

Good roads and port facilities and efficient transport services are crucial to the growth of Pacific island economies. Without the proper infrastructure, remote and isolated communities lack access to public services, markets, and economic opportunities.

ADB helps countries in the Pacific build capacity in the transport sector. It supports transport policies and programs that improve access, reliability, and safety, and lower costs. Efficient and effective transport systems will promote trade and commerce, increase employment, and reduce poverty in the Pacific.

Transport investments

Most island states lack the capital to upgrade their transport systems. The smaller, less-developed countries also lack the capacity to plan, develop, and manage improvements in the sector. In response, ADB has increased its support for transport operations in the Pacific with total assistance amounting to $932.3 million for the period 1969 to 2010. In 2013 alone, ADB’s transport portfolio under implementation amounted to about $1.8 billion.

In an independent evaluation review in 2012, ADB support to the transport sector in the Pacific received an overall successful rating.

The largest share of ADB funding in the Pacific continues to be in land transport, but assistance to maritime and civil aviation, which are key to connecting the islands to each other and to the global economy, is increasing.

In the maritime industry, ADB-funded projects have helped countries in the Pacific improve the safety and efficiency of services by upgrading facilities, encouraging private sector participation, and strengthening resilience to climate change. An innovative project in the Solomon Islands has introduced a franchise shipping scheme that supports provision of services to remote communities otherwise considered commercially unviable. Fiji Ports Development Project has turned the Suva and Lautoka ports into models of efficiency and climate change adaptation, with special engineering features that guard against earthquakes and tsunamis.

In the Cook Islands, the upgrading of the Avatiu port extended the life of the port by 50 years, expanded its capacity to allow access by larger ships, and made it climate-proof. Avatiu plays an important role in the archipelago's economy as it serves as the principal international port as well as the transhipment port for cargo to the less populated outer islands.

Ongoing projects include the expansion of Lae port, which serves as a gateway to the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea (PNG), and improving interisland shipping services to Vanuatu's capital, Port Vila, and rural areas.

ADB has also been involved in the establishment of regional initiatives such as the Pacific Region Infrastructure Facility, a partnership between development partners and country governments, and the Pacific Aviation Safety Office, which promotes regional cooperation in aviation safety regulation and oversight.

Regional transport sector projects supported by ADB include climate-resilient infrastructure development and increasing aviation security and safety, and increasing cross-border trade by strengthening border management systems. The Road Network Development Sector Project in Timor-Leste is expected to increase trade with Indonesia by improving border post facilities.

The pipeline of ADB transport projects for 2014-2016, which amount to about $484 million, includes proposed support for road and bridge rehabilitation in PNG, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, and Vanuatu; port development in the Federated States of Micronesia, PNG, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste and Vanuatu; and airport improvements in PNG.