Among the Asian Development Bank’s developing member countries, those in the Pacific have some of the most unique challenges.
Foremost among them? Their isolation. ADB’s 15 Pacific island countries are spread across a geographical area of 30 million square kilometers, yet their combined landmass makes up less than 2% of this. So connecting the Pacific islands to each other and the world has become some of ADB’s most important and necessary work in the region.
Improvements to the region’s physical connectivity apply to air, sea, and land infrastructure.
Connectivity in the Pacific has two components: the physical and the digital.
Improvements to the region’s physical connectivity apply to air, sea, and land infrastructure. Since 2009, ADB has invested, or is investing, almost $470 million through the Civil Aviation Development Investment Program to upgrade 19 of the region’s airports.
The improved runways, security, and surveillance equipment are helping to create safer and more efficient ways of transporting people and goods by air.
ADB has been working to make affordable, high-speed internet available to help people and businesses overcome their isolation.
With roads, ADB has built or upgraded more than 1,000 kilometers to make it easier to connect people in some of their countries’ most remote areas. The Kiribati Road Rehabilitation Project, for example, helped rehabilitate more than 37 kilometers of paved road and added more than 50 kilometers of footpaths, making the island safer for motorists and pedestrians alike.
And improved ports, such as the $86 million reconstruction of the Aiwo port in Nauru, which began construction in January 2019, will make it safer, easier, and cheaper for countries to expand their trade ties.
Four Big Questions with Emma Veve, ADB Pacific Department's Director of Social Sectors and Public Sector Management.
Q: Why is digital connectivity so important for the Pacific?
A: In the Pacific, the countries are always going to be very far geographically, from their markets, from the rest of the world. But what connectivity through the internet or digital connectivity does is it brings those countries virtually closer to everyone else in the world, closer to their markets. People have better contact with their relatives who move overseas and it allows the countries to in fact leapfrog some of the steps in development that the other currently developed countries had to go through.
Q: How is ADB helping to develop digital technology in the Pacific?
A: ADB in the Pacific most recently has been working on laying submarine cables to actually connect the Pacific Islands to the rest of the world through very fast fiber optic internet connections. By the middle of 2020, pretty much all of the Pacific countries will have those kinds or connections. What the next step is to ensure that in-country connectivity, be that through mobile phones, through digital fiber optic cables, and other means of spreading the internet within the country.
Q: How can governments use digital technology for development?
A: Things like online education, health information systems, getting businesses online so that tourists can book more easily and information on the country can be more easily shared are just a few of the things that governments can be doing to actually provide better development benefits through the internet.
Q: Who benefits from better digital technology in the Pacific?
A: When you invest in digital interconnectivity, the beneficiaries are quite broad. They’re children in schools who might be able to access new and interesting education matters, who might be able to communicate with other schools in other parts of the world. It’s doctors and nurses who are able to contact their colleagues overseas and get better and more up to date advice on things that they’re facing. Also, businesses are one big, big beneficiary. It brings them closer to their markets and so they can share information on their services, on their goods with the whole world which, really, was not able to be done before the internet.
Four Big Questions with Olly Norojono, ADB Pacific Department's DB Pacific Department's Director of Transport, Energy and Natural Resources.
Q: How does better infrastructure help the Pacific?
A: The 15 developing member countries in the Pacific have unique challenges in terms of their isolation—they are a long way away from each other and the rest of the world. So physical infrastructure that reduces those travel times—be it ports, roads, or airports—can make a really big difference. One project we can look at is the Highland Highway in Papua New Guinea. This is about 400kms of road and with the improvement of the road you have a shorter travel time that will reduce the cost of travel. Another project is the building of a new port in Nauru. With ADB financing of $21.3 million, we hope to shorten the turnaround of vessels going to the port from 21 days to 4 days. That will have a big impact. It will eventually reduce the cost of transport, which will then reduce the cost of bringing commodities into the country, which will lead to lower retail prices for consumers.
Q: What are the key infrastructure priorities for the Pacific?
A: The isolation many Pacific islanders feel doesn’t necessarily just apply to the outside world—it also applies to the distance from their own countrymen and women. Many people live in remote parts of the country and improved roads that can weather the impact of floods, winds, and storms are vital for maintaining and improving their quality of life. So roads have been the priority and will continue to be the priority. Of course, our operations in the maritime and ports have been increasing and will continue to increase. And we also have very important operations in civil aviation. In Papua New Guinea at the moment, ADB is spearheading a project to help the private sector develop a new international passenger terminal at Port Moresby International Airport.
Q: How does ADB decide which projects get the go ahead?
A: The key is to have a top-class project design. That is always the first step. The design needs to be done in accordance with technical criteria and with an accurate cost assessment. It also needs to have resilience built into the design. The project has to be relevant, it has to be effective, it has to be efficient, and it has to be sustainable. That means it needs to be able to withstand natural disasters and the fluctuations in the weather, but also have a positive impact on the surrounding environment. Last but not least, we need to have a good system which makes sure that the project is executed in accordance with a plan and is properly maintained after completion.
Q: Who benefits from better physical infrastructure in the Pacific?
A: Lots of people benefit from better roads, ports, and airports. The business community benefits because they will enjoy shorter travel times and lower costs of transport. That helps to grow the private sector which provides employment opportunities and better and cheaper goods and services for consumers. The community in rural areas also really benefit from better infrastructure because they can more easily and more often go to school, to health facilities, to community activities if the physical infrastructure around them is reliable and efficient.
In terms of the digital, ADB has been working to make affordable, high-speed internet available to help people and businesses overcome their isolation. ADB has committed some $107 million to help finance submarine cable projects in six Pacific countries—the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Palau, Samoa, and Tonga—to facilitate faster internet speed and lower costs for consumers.
ADB is also providing technical assistance to improve e-governance in the Cook Islands.
In 2018, ADB’s loan and grant portfolio for physical connectivity stood at 24 projects with a total value of $1.7 billion, while ADB’s overall loan and grant portfolio for digital connectivity boasted five projects and a total value of $104 million.
With improved physical infrastructure like roads, ports, and airports and faster and cheaper internet, the Pacific islands are doing much to mitigate their distance from each other and the rest of the world.