UNCHS (Habitat) Regional Conference on Promoting Sustainable Consumption in Asian Cities

Fukuoka, Japan, 29 June - 1 July 1998

Problems, Challenges and Prospects for Sustainable Consumption Patterns in Urban Areas of Small Island Developing States of the South Pacific

By Mano Kumarasuriyar & Matthew Burke

Development Planning Program, Dept of Geographical Sciences and Planning

The University of Queensland, Australia


References to the Asia-Pacific region as the most dynamic region in the World - the engine of global economic growth, almost never include the Small Island Nations of the South Pacific. They are firstly, too small in size - as individual countries as well as a group of nations; secondly, their cultural, political and economic diversity, coupled with the vast distances between the small island nations, is such that they are rarely identified as a cohesive group; and thirdly, in sharp contrast to Asia economic dynamism, the Pacific Islands tend to lack economic vitality. Despite these differences, these island nations have been experiencing remarkable urbanization trends, at rates even faster than the Asian nations. This has occurred, partly due to the 'push factor' of gross under-development in rural outer islands and the unreliable, at best, and primitive, at worst, transport and communication linkages, and partly due to the 'pull factor' of modernizing cities and towns. However, unlike the cities of Asia, the cities and towns of the Pacific Island nations have enormous natural resources constraints imposed by geographic and geomorphologic characteristics of these urban areas. It is in this context that this paper explores the sustainability of current resource consumption patterns in urban areas of Small Island Nations in the South Pacific.


Spread over 30 million square kilometers of the South Pacific ocean, 22 countries (excluding Australia, New Zealand and the Hawaiian Islands) with around 7,500 islands and thousands more islets make up only about 500,000 sq.kms of land mass, of which Papua New Guinea alone occupies 462,243 sq.kms. These islands and islets belong to three distinct geomorpholical groups - those of volcanic origin with highly fertile soils and several exploitable mineral deposits, those with low lying coral atoll formations (average height above mean sea level being only 1.5 metres) void of any mineral deposits and low fertility for plant growth, and those with a mix of the two. Only around 500 islands are inhabited at present with a population of around 6.2 million. Papua New Guinea, with the largest land mass, also has the largest population of 3.7 million, while at the other end of the scale Tokelau has a population of only around 2,000, crowded on an area of 10 sq.kms.

While the percentages of populations urbanized vary from a low 13% in the Solomon Islands to a super-saturation of 100% in Nauru - which by itself may not adequately illustrate the gravity of the problem - it is the fact that, in a majority of the countries, these urban populations are concentrated in one city or town with geographic and resource limitations that calls for urgent attention and appropriate action. The major urban centres are generally the most important link to the world markets, the central supplier of tertiary education, social and health services, providing employment opportunities, and, consequently, absorbing all rural-urban migrants. Concerns exist over this primacy of many Pacific cities. With aid and bureaucratic employment focussed on urban centres and various other 'push' and 'pull' factors, it is difficult to see urbanisation diminishing. The largest official urbanization rates in the region from 1980-1990 were to be found in Vanuatu, where the average annual urban growth rate was 10.0% per annum, and Tuvalu where the growth rate was 9.1% per annum. Note however that the definition of "urban" changes across the island nations. (Bryant 1993, pp10-12). For an overview of population growth, and land size see Table 1. The higher consumption levels of urban dwellers mean that consumption of almost all resources in increasing in line with urbanization and modernization.

Table 1 Small Island States of the Pacific Islands - Selected Countries

Population, Population Growth Rates, Land and Sea Areas

Population (000) 1990 Population growth rates (1980-1990) Land (km2)


(x 103 km2)

Cook Islands 18 -0.2 240 1 830
Federated States of Micronesia 99 2.7 701 2 978
Fiji 764 1.9 18 272 1 290
Kiribati 72 2.1 690 3 550
Marshall Islands 39 2.7 181 2 131
Nauru 9 1.8 21 320
Niue 3 -1.9 259 390
Northern Mariana Islands 22 2.6 471 1 823
Palau 17 2.7 424 629
Papua New Guinea 3 874 2.3 462 243 3 120
Solomon Islands 320 3.6 27 556 1 340
Tonga 95 -0.2 699 700
Tuvalu 9 1.1 346 857
Vanuatu 158 3.1 11 900 680
Samoa 159 0.3 2 935 120

Source: Adapted from WIDER 1995, p86. Note - Population growth rate figures include migration.

The non-availability of affordable land caused by high urbanization rates and traditional land management issues, have lead to the uncontrolled growth of spontaneous settlements in areas with obvious constraints in resources such as land, water and building materials. This has a profound consequence on the natural environment, exacerbating the problems of growing resource consumption. It is in this context that a range of issues provide great challenges to the Pacific Island nations.



Water supply, sewerage and waste disposal are potentially the most important consumption problems facing the Pacific Islands today. Although the nature of the supply problem alters across the geological diversity of the islands, the issues of sewerage and waste apply across all areas.

3.1.1 Water supplies

Over the last thirty years the installation of large freshwater distribution networks has increased consumption across the Pacific, except in those localities where water resource constraints are most acute. For example, in Suva, Fiji, freshwater consumption has increased from 162 litres per person per day in the 1980's, to 215 litres per person per day in 1994. Access to freshwater is vital for meeting basic human needs and the inadequate protection of supply through over-consumption or contamination can lead to rapid health and development problems. Both the quantity and quality of supply in many Pacific Island states is already less than adequate due to particular climatic and geological conditions. Problems exist with storage facilities and delivery systems, combining to further exacerbate the problem.

Atoll states such as Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands have found it particularly difficult to provide adequate water supplies and related services to a growing urban population, and many have had enormous problems during the recent drought of 1997-98. While rainwater harvesting provides some proportion of supply to residents other sources are necessary to meet demand. Ground water is usually accessed from underground water lenses (essentially small pools of underground water floating on top of denser sea water, covered by a thin permeable soil). The lenses have proved particularly vulnerable to urbanisation and the growing per capita use of water, and are often contaminated by over-pumping, which leads to salt water intrusion. In times of drought the level of groundwater recharge falls further and development strategies have not always considered this constraint. Other interruptions to supply may include salt water intrusion or inundation as a result of sea-level rise or storm activity. In South Tarawa, Kiribati, today two water reserves are considered too polluted and are no longer pumped, and the rapidly antiquating reticulation system handles less volume than ten years ago.

Rainwater catchments operate in two ways. In most cases, individual households use tanks (either in galvanised iron or concrete) to collect water drainage off the rooftop during storms. The house gutters and drainpipes simply deliver rainwater down to the storage container for later use. In other instances, particularly in institutions such as schools and hospitals, special low structures are erected to catch rain water which then flows into sumps from where water is pumped to various parts of the building. The effective storage of rainwater harvesting is becoming more essential owing to the spatial and temporal variability of rainfall, particularly noticeable during the el Nino event of 1997-98.

On the Marshall Islandsí capital, Majuro, surface catchment on the airport runway is pumped to a 24 million gallon storage tank nearby, and, after treatment, it is released directly into the city distribution network (UNCHS 1994, pp10-11). While this water is used for drinking and bathing purposes a separate network is provided to carry sea water for flushing of toilets. In the Pacific cities where no separate system of sea water reticulation for the flushing of toilets is in place, the consumption of reticulated treated water is excessive.

For larger islands more traditional catchments are often in place to collect freshwater. Reservoirs collect water from streams, treatment plants are in place, and pipe systems deliver throughout urban areas. In places like Samoa the growth of informal settlements within catchment areas has led to a decrease in water quality through the clearing vegetation for subsistence purposes, soil erosion, and contamination by wastes. Inadequate land management and urban planning create great difficulties for water supply authorities by not halting such practices.

A few cities have experimented with desalination plants but have abandoned them on account of high costs for maintenance and repairs. Ebye, an islet on Kwajalein atoll in the Marshall Islands, is the only urban area to continue operating a desalination plant on a regular basis. The plant is located in close proximity to the diesel power generator for the islet, from which the 'waste heat' is utilised for desalination purposes.

In addition to polluting waters downstream, industry often consumes vast quantities of freshwater in industrial processes. While the limitation of resources constrains development, where decisions are made to invest in water intensive industry there is often pressure placed on lenses and catchment resource. For instance in Honiara, Solomon Islands, the planned construction of a brewery was seen as quite likely to cause further stress to existing water supply systems (Convard 1993, p71).

The breakdown of many traditional practices, often for very good reasons, has led to a growth in demand for water that continues today. For instance, the shift from using beach areas for defecating to European styled flush toilets within houses in urban areas places further demand on scarce water resources. Similarly the introduction of white goods such as washing machines, and new approaches to washing, cleaning, and cooking all add to consumption which will grow with the continued modernisation of the Island economies.

Samoa has a particularly severe problem due to the exorbitant water consumption patterns of its residents, reaching around 700 litres per person per day - much higher than the average Pacific Island average of around 200-300 litres per day, and higher than even Canadian Cities such as Winnipeg and Edmonton which average 400-500 litres consumption per day. Each resident of Apia uses almost 500 litres more per day than a resident of Suva, Fiji. There is a traditional attitude amongst Samoans that water is a natural resource, given by God, that is available in abundance; this combines with an ignorance of the budget requirements for operation and maintenance of the water supply system. Added to the equation are inappropriate charging regimes, wastage, lack of accurate and functioning water meters and the practice of illegal tapping of pipes. Poor enforcement of existing water regulations allowed the continuance of the problem (Connell and Lea 1995, pp116-26). Following privatisation of the water authority some water restrictions are now in place in Apia, but the extravagance of use has exhausted the limits of reservoir supply which is now being augmented with water from unpurified sources, in order to meet the demand.

Rarotonga, Cook Islands has also faced water supply problems due to monthly rainfalls falling between 50 and 60 percent of normal at the start of 1998. The government Water Supply Department was forced to turn off main valves in some areas nightly to allow homes in high elevation areas to get water. A group of workers were also dispatched to check around the island to make sure people were not wasting water through broken faucets and leaking pipes, or allowing water to run continuously in gardens and farm areas (PACNEWS/Ioane 1998 ). Samoa and Cook Islands are not alone in facing many of these problems, but its experience illustrates just how resource consumption issues can spiral out of control in the Pacific Islands.

The main urban centres of Samoa are unlikely to experience loss of supply but other areas of the Pacific are not so fortunate. Any breakdown in adequate supply, for whatever combination of climatic and human interventions, can have dramatic impacts, as an outbreak of cholera in Tuvalu illustrated in 1990. While that nation had improved its per capita provision from 1986 figure of only 13 litres, there were vast problems with water sanitation. Ten years later the government was still struggling to provide its target of 50 litres per person - a minimum international benchmark - at an acceptable quality (Connell and Lea 1995, p131).

3.1.2 Contamination of freshwater by sewerage

The inadequate disposal of human waste is perhaps the most critical environmental problem in the Pacific Islands, particularly in urban areas. If human excreta contaminates freshwater supplies there is the likelihood of outbreaks of cholera and other gastro-intestinal diseases. The contamination of shellfish, which the urban poor harvest at low tides and consume uncooked, and other marine foodstuffs also leads to health problems. Having a significant impact on the scarce water resources in urban areas, sewage disposal requires some comment here.

The range of disposal techniques employed are often completely inappropriate. Unfortunately there is little option though, particularly for atolls where large sewerage treatment plants would consume most of the available land if ever constructed. While most major urban settlements have a reticulated sewerage system for the disposal of human wastes, the untreated sewage is dumped directly into the sea - though not as far out as desirable - and are almost all are in poor states of maintenance. Usually this is due to either ignorance or to expense. Where sewerage systems are in place, such as in South Tarawa, Kiribati, there are often blockages, and there are insufficient resources for maintenance or repair. Septic tank systems are common primary treatment solutions in large islands but do have problems. For instance, in Suva, Fiji, septic tank effluents cannot percolate properly due to the underlying soapstone geology. With high annual rainfall and low evaporation there is infrequent oxygen penetration. The efficiency and effectiveness of the septic systems are greatly reduced, and there is often seepage into Suva main water bodies (Bryant 1993, p19). However, across the Pacific Islands most urban residents now have access to appropriate human waste disposal. Only 12.9% of residents in Majuro, Marshall Islands do not have access to toilet facilities, although this figure is far higher in rural areas where 42.1% of persons have no access (UNCHS 1994, p148).

The allowance of surface leakage by many septic tanks, pour-flush latrines and pit latrines, contaminates groundwater table supplies, exposing residents to public health risk. Other wastes such as the effluent from industries and sewerage into lagoons, while open drains in many areas carrying wastes from light industry (dry cleaners etc.) into the sea, often at inappropriate locations.

Essential to improve the situation is a change to community attitudes to the disposal and use of sewage, not just the installation and maintenance of appropriate infrastructure. Pacific Islanders will not consider the use of human wastes as fertilizer. Public health education and the enforcement of regulations are vital.


Imported petroleum products are the mainstay of energy requirements in the Pacific Island nations. There are almost no alternative energy resources available, despite the potential for solar and wind power being theoretically high. Imported petroleum fuels are used mainly for transport and electricity, and mostly within urban areas. Again, as urbanization has continued, and with increasing personal income, consumption is steadily expanding.

The rise of petroleum consumption means that cities such as Apia now consume approximately 52 million litres of fuel per year (1997-98 estimate, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Samoa). The transportation costs for these products are high, and their growing usage makes up a considerable proportion of the GDP of Pacific Island economies. Just how dramatic the increases in fuel consumption are is made clear in Table 2, indicating fuel importation to Fiji in the last fifteen years.

Table 2 - Volume of Fuel Imported by Fiji per year, 1982-1997





133,607,434 litres

72,308,065 litres

127,308,065 litres

186,928,807 litres

Source: Department of Town and Country Planning.

3.2.1 Electricity

Almost all electricity generation within the South Pacific is from diesel generators of differing scale. Supply varies in standard from that equivalent to any developed city in the capitals of Fiji and New Caledonia, to almost no provision in Tokelau - restricted supply periods and small generators providing limited output. Where there are supply problems caps are placed on the potential for consumption growth until capacity is expanded. For instance, in Rarotonga, Cook Islands, diesel-fuelled generators distribute medium and low voltage transmissions to residences, industry, and tourist developments. Inadequate bulk oil storage depots, and irregular supply through shipping delays add further problems to supply (UNCHS 1996, p40). In Samoa, as well as diesel generation, there is supplementary supply from four small hydro power schemes, although in dry periods these may only run at 20-25 per cent of their wet season capacity. To get around capacity problems from public distribution systems many private business, and some public agencies produce their own power from small generators (UNCHS 1996, p17). In Majuro, Marshall Islands, there are questions regarding the maintenance of the electricity supply system, while in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, where some hydro-electricity is supplied from use of the Sirinumu Dam water system, there have been shortages caused by the recent drought conditions (Map 1997).

These supply problems place constraints on over-consumption by electricity users, though latent demand exists which will appear if capacity is increased. Barriers to expanding capacity include the cost of new facilities, and inadequate recouping of costs through user charging. Pricing remains a contentious issue and the collection of charges does not always occur in a user-pays fashion. As with water resources, there is insufficient monitoring of usage, a lack of accurate meters, wastage and poor charging regimes which all encourage excessive use.

3.2.2 Transport

With continued growth in car ownership in the Pacific Islands, and the availability of more sealed road surfaces, consumption of transportation fuels is likely to increase further. As improved road transport is viewed as progress in economic development, little attention is being given to the restriction of vehicle registration growth by governments and in urban centres in particular transport fuel consumption is rapidly increasing. For instance Tonga main island of Tongatapu has seen vehicle registrations surge to over 14,450 for a population of 66,577 people, from next to nothing 25 years ago (Fonua 1997, p13). Fiji has had a similar experience with motor vehicle registrations steadily rising from 55,961 in 1982 to 98,630 in 1996. A reason for this increase in vehicle ownership is the availability of cheaper reconditioned used cars flooding the market, making cars affordable to a larger segment of the urban population. The vehicles, often second-hand imports from Japan or other developed nations, are inadequately maintained - decreasing fuel efficiency and increasing exhaust pollution. Improved mass mobility is a stimulant to development, increasing access and communication, and motorization becomes a necessity with increasing urbanisation and city size. However, the reliance of Pacific Island transport strategies on increasing car and light commercial vehicle usage is questionable, given the number of significant negative externalities, including congestion, road trauma, pollution, and urban sprawl.

Aviation fuel requirements are also extensive. Aircraft fuels similarly must be imported and the small volumes purchased and high transport costs make them more expensive than in more prosperous nations. Air traffic has grown steadily throughout the Pacific Islands with burgeoning tourism industries and business interests requiring continued investment in the aviation sector. Aircraft themselves have grown in size as well with Boeing 737 jets in use by Air Caledonie, Polynesian Airline, Air Pacific and other regional carriers on major routes, displacing the smaller propellor driven aircraft of previous eras (Keith-Reid 1997, pp20-21). As tourism development continues throughout the region it is likely these consumption growth trends will continue.

Similarly, inter-island shipping consumes significant volumes of petroleum fuels. As the main mode for trade in commodities, the importation of goods, and the carriage of passengers to neighbouring islands, ships traversing the South Seas are critical for economic development. The growth of mining concessions in Papua New Guinea, the likely reopening of the Bougainville mine, a continued growth in demand for Western imports - due to higher incomes and larger urban populations, and the slow rate of upgrading the regions vessels, indicate there will be continued growth in fuel consumption in the maritime sector.

3.2.3 Cooking

In many countries, despite the availability of electricity, fire wood is the most popular source of energy for cooking. The other preferred method is the use of kerosene or similar petroleum products in cooking stoves. Only 15.2% of Apia (Samoa) residents use electricity for cooking, 9.7% use petroleum gas, and 20.1% use kerosene. 54.7% of residents use firewood when cooking. This compares with rural areas of Samoa like Savaii where 83.5% of residents use wood when cooking (UNCHS 1996, p23). With continued urbanisation it is likely that the proportion of residents who use electricity or petroleum fuels for cooking will increase further.


3.3.1 Land

The nature of land tenure in the Pacific Islands is both diverse and difficult for outsiders to understand. The codified land tenure systems developed by colonial administrators and the more idealised 'Traditional' land tenure forms sit uneasily with one another. Further changes have been necessary as communities coped with the transition to what is modern Pacific Island life - essentially, lifestyles influenced by imported value systems that are a consequence of international aid driven modernization processes.

Relatively small areas of land have been removed from traditional customary ownership across the South Pacific. In Papua New Guinea an estimated total of 600,000 ha is alienated of a total land mass of 46 million ha. 83% of the Solomon Islands 2.4 million ha is held under customary ownership (Cole R. 1994. pp47-48). The uncertainty over land tenure and land ownership hinders economic development by discouraging entrepreneurship, investment, and the expansion of existing business enterprises. It is also argued that it dampens the individual initiative of traditional owners, and places land in the hands of those not willing or able to use it efficiently (Lakau 1994, p79).

An example of how land tenure systems continue to limit consumption is seen in Samoa. Eighty percent of Samoa is made up of various 'customary land' tenure forms, including nearly all residential land in rural villages. 16 percent is 'government' or public land, and only about four percent is freehold, mostly concentrated in the incorporated areas of Apia and the plantation belt of northwest Upolu. Where there is not individual freehold ownership there is insecurity and a lack of control over income gained through the use of land. It halts the desire to construct expensive European style houses, as the current occupants would be at threat of numerous and distant relations claiming access. The authority to use the land may also pass to persons outside the immediate family in the next generation, adding to uncertainty and thus reducing the demand for housing and construction materials (O' Meara 1995, pp122-144).

The demands of tourism add a further limitation. In 1992 in Guam, which is only 214 sq.miles in size, 27 golf courses, taking approximately 0.5 sq.miles of land each, had been approved or were entering the approval stage for construction, consuming an enormous proportion of the total land area (Brown, J. in Boer (ed.) 1992, p137).

This all leads to an overheated demand for the limited supply of freehold land in most major urban areas. The surety involved with freehold tenure makes it more valuable to investors and developers, particularly those from overseas. With steady urbanisation the growth of informal settlements in customary land on the urban fringe is inevitable, and inadequate urban planning compounds this problem. Squatters can be found on customary lands on the outskirts of many primary cities in the Pacific Islands, with the attendant problems of waste, water supply and the provision of other urban services. It is not expected that this pattern will change considerably in the next decade.

3.3.2 Coastal Management

Coastal areas are potentially the most vulnerable ecological areas in most island states. Coastal areas are where most major urban centres are located, are the focus for most economic development in the Pacific islands, and also provide critical support to a wide biological diversity, such as turtle nesting sites. It is in the coastal zone where the increasing consumption of natural resources has the greatest impact.

Environmental stress caused by both human and natural factors impact the coastline with greater force than more resilient inland areas. Of key concern are mangrove areas - which are the major nurseries for fish, swamps and beach systems. The degradation of coastal areas is a function of continuing urbanisation and population growth and harmful resource usage. Overcrowding and the encroachment of human habitation on coastal areas leads to the removal of vegetation and interference with natural coastal processes. Pollution, soil erosion and siltation of reefs and lagoons follow. Combined with the unsustainable harvesting of fish resources - shellfish in particular, sand mining, excavation, coral blasting and other practices, there are stresses placed on the fish reserves upon which coastal communities depend.

The practice of building causeways to link the islets surrounding lagoons in atoll states has had many impacts. They extend the area available for urban expansion, increase the supply of available land - allow ease of transport and decrease the potential for overcrowding on islets where urban activity is strongest. But they require extensive coral blasting, consume vast quantities of materials for their construction, and deeply impact on natural coastal processes such as water flows into lagoons and sedimentation patterns. For instance, the Nippon Causeway was completed in 1989 to link Betio Islet with the rest of South Tarawa, Kiribati. Prior to its construction rural-urban migrants crammed into Betio despite the sparse population of neighbouring islands. Land consumption problems have only partly eased since its completion (UNCHS 1994, p198). The problem evidents itself most clearly in the number of houses that are now on the verge of being swallowed up by the sea in South Tarawa.

3.3.3 Forest Resources

Forest resources are not a particularly significant issue in the Pacific other than in a few islands of volcanic origin where large forest reserves exist and where deforestation for commercial logging has been significant. Traditional land management practices permitted clearing of forests for subsistence agricultural purposes - clearing being controlled by how much a family could clear manually. However, with the introduction of heavy equipment for tree felling and removal, and increased demand for cash crops, traditional resource management practices are no longer effective.

Research by Ron Duncan, Executive Director, National Centre for Development Studies, Australian National University, has shown that unsustainable timber yields were being harvested in provinces of Papua New Guinea, across the Solomon Islands, and in Vanuatu throughout 1993. He argued Papua New Guinea was already harvesting the sustainable maximum yield of 3.5 million m3 per annum from its forest, whereas the Solomon Islands were dramatically exceeding their sustainable harvest. On a smaller scale Vanuatu was also close to breeching its sustainable yield. See Table 3 (Duncan, R. 1994 p21).

Table 3 Forest and timber statistics, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu
Papua New Guinea Solomon Islands Vanuatu
Total forest area (million hectares) 34.0 2.4 0.43
Commercially productive (million hectares) 7.0-7.5 0.48 0.12
Yield allowable under licenses currently issued (million cubic metres per annum) 8.0 3.3 0.2
Current harvesting yield (million cubic metres in 1993) 3.5 0.7 0.03
Sustainable yield (million cubic metres per annum) 3.5 0.3 0.038-0.052

Source: Duncan, R. 1994, p21.

Little evidence exists to suggest enormous change has occurred in these harvesting trends, particularly with peculiarities in the reporting of timber harvests by logging companies. Log export bans and efforts to support domestic timber processing industries have been put in place but the value of these responses is questionable. Efforts to ensure landowners receive the timber revenues they deserve may be more appropriate, raising the cost of timber production, stemming unsustainable harvesting, and creating local development (Duncan R. 1994, p26). Enormous deficiencies exist in the present logging contract system within both Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, with demand in Asia remaining relatively high, accrual of large economic surpluses to logging companies through the early 1990's and only small payments to landowners for the removal of their forests.

Land clearing for agriculture is a more serious problem for some nations than logging operations. In Niue the geological structure of the island makes it impractical to cultivate by ploughing. Consequently, 'flash and burn' methods are used to clear, destroying native forest and, on abandonment, replacing it with scrub (Punu and McFadzien in Boer (ed.) 1993. p151). A 1992 report for the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme stated that in Samoa an average of 7,500 acres of rainforest was being cleared annually, with as much as 80% of this the result of agricultural clearance, not logging. Only 28% of Upolu (the most populous island where Apia is located), and 46% of Savaii were forested at that time (Latu, Sesega and Cornforth 1993).

3.3.4 Mineral Resources

The exploitation of mineral resources takes many forms in the South Pacific. Across the region sand mining operates, with the material gathered used mainly in construction. Coral is blasted, also to be used for building materials, and there is also extensive mining of resources such as copper and super phosphate. Mineral exploitation for export, though not extensive across the Pacific, is particularly attractive to governments as they can earn foreign currency and refinance other sectors of the economy. Mining activity has changed consumption levels within its area of influence in other ways as is shown in Nauru.

The blasting of corals is increasing across the Pacific Islands. Coral blasting occurs for a number of reasons but most common are land reclamation - sometimes to link islets with roads - and to source lime and aggregate for construction materials. Coral boulders are used for road construction, for bund walls in land reclamation, and for causeway construction. The shift from the once dominant coconut and pandanus housing materials to European styled concrete block construction, in cities like Rarotonga has caused a demand for base materials like lime and sand, despite these new housing forms being climatically unsuitable and culturally alien (UNCHS 1996, p40). Sand is mined not just for building materials, but also for use to cover sanitary landfills with materials. The increases in garbage generation have dictated growth in sand mining for this purpose. The removal of sand and the corals has a significant impact on marine and coastal processes. Sand mining of beaches in Western Samoa has exceeded the rate of supply causing erosion in coastal areas.

Nauru in the Central Pacific, was once rich with some of the highest quality phosphate reserves in the world, built up over centuries by the abundant birdlife. These phosphate rock deposits, or guano, literally blanketed Nauru and its neighbour Banaba. The value of these deposits was assessed as hundreds of millions of dollars at the time of the commencement of the Nauruan mining operations in 1907 (Weeramantry 1992, pp1-22). The 22 km square island, under a trusteeship, has found that the mining has made the land unusable and cultivation impossible, but it is still populated by approximately 5,000 native Nauruans. Its original stock of 100,000,000 tonnes of guano is fast diminishing. The results of mining on Nauru include a dramatic shortage of usable land, denuded vegetation which will take centuries to reestablish itself in even a modified form, and the almost total disruption of the island ecosystem. Under the impact of the phosphate industry the Nauruan diet has changed substantially, focussed far more on imported foodstuffs, especially canned foods. Indeed significant cultural, social and ecological damage has been placed upon the Nauruans and their island, permanently altering their consumption patterns (Weeeramantry 1992, p30-31, Keke in Crocombe and Meleisea (eds.) 1994. pp229-233).


Due to the large concentration of people on small land areas in Pacific island towns and cities, the excesses of waste disposal tend to be highly visible. Pollution of the land and sea are considerable constraints on development in many locations across the region. The disposal of human wastes in the context of the contamination of freshwater resources has already been discussed. This section concentrates on the generation and disposal of other wastes.

The shift to imported goods, with disposable packaging in particular, has led to a great shift in both the nature and the size of wastes in urban areas. Whereas most wastes in the Pacific Islands thirty years ago were biodegradable, this is no longer the case, and community attitudes have not altered to match that shift. Previously, waste could be discarded on the land or in the sea and the low volumes and low concentrations meant it was readily assimilated and broken down. Today the accumulation of plastics and other non-biodegradables develop due to the same disposal patterns with differing waste products.

Community attitudes regarding the disposal of hazardous substances in the Pacific Islands are often less than adequate. The duality of the growth of and changes in industrial production create greater volumes of both liquid effluents and solid wastes, which do not receive the same scrutiny from government or community that occurs in Australia. There is also growth in the generation of such wastes as dangerous hospital waste, and office wastes, as these sectors have expanded with urbanization. Lack of regulation or monitoring of illegal, and usually less expensive, waste disposal methods encourages more waste generation than necessary.

Funding waste collection is a difficulty for most governments, as other services receive priority from public budgets. The collection of waste in informal settlements on the urban fringe is usually non-existent. Few recycling programs are in existence, and little public education of the need to minimise waste generation takes place due to lack of funding.

The lack of controls and policing of waste disposal, combined with entrenched attitudes to using coastal and tidal areas for disposal, provide no incentive to waste minimisation. The only disincentive to waste generation appears to be the higher transport costs for imported packaged good to the Pacific Islands.

One sector where some recycling does occur is in the consumption of bottled and canned drinks. In Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, market demand allows economic recycling of used bottles and cans by industry. The price paid per unit recovered is sufficient to encourage the urban poor to collect the materials, and it is estimated that up to 90% of bottles are returned for recycling, and the same bottle may be refilled nine times (Hunt 1997, p46).

There are no differentiated taxes upon goods wrapped in plastics. Such taxation instruments may be one way to reduce the level of wastes. A deposit on plastics, the collection and disposal funded by a small tax on the products that generate the plastic, or a small increase in sales taxes, could all have an impact on waste generation and waste collection rates. Similar schemes could be applied to other wastes such as oils, car batteries, or car bodies (Hunt 1997, p52).

The problems of large waste generation patterns becomes clear with the range of disposal methods all having problems in the Pacific Islands. Suitable landfill sites, the best disposal method, are unfortunately limited due to the small land mass of atoll nations. It is also expensive to properly line and seal rubbish dump pits before use and this is often not performed. Incineration reduces the volume of wastes but the disposal of hazardous ash is still a necessity. The most common solution becomes the dumping of solid wastes into the sea, on the beaches, or in open dump situations, often along roadsides. In South Tarawa, Kiribati, for instance, there is no management plan for the disposal of wastes and most wastes are simply dumped on the foreshore or beach. In Tonga refuse is dumped in important mangrove areas. (Connell and Lea 1995, p129), whereas in Tuvalu borrow pits, where material has been excavated for construction, are used as dump sites. The collection of wastes often means the shifting of waste from one informal collection point to a site nominated as a landfill (UNDP 1996b, p160). The consequences of such practices are the contamination of water supplies through leaching into groundwater or runoff into streams, and the growth of insect populations and other pests.

The growth of industry on the islands has directed a steady increase in industrial waste production. Effluents and sludge from two fish canneries in American Samoa, a fish cannery in Fiji, a palm oil processing plant in the Solomon Islands, and a juice cannery in the Cook Islands, all dispose waste into the sea, reducing fish and biotic diversity. Sugar mills, abundant in Fiji, and sawmills also discharge organic waste, with similar results (Bryant 1993, pp20-21). The fish canneries all process several hundred tonnes of tuna per day, and pollution problems have been identified with each of these facilities. Other countries are considering canneries and the production of dissolved phosphorus and nitrogen, and solid wastes, may grow (Convard 1993, p27-31). Industries such as paint manufacturing, printers, photo processing, textiles, and footwear also have developed in larger urban centres.

Breweries, which have been established in Samoa, Vanuatu, Tonga, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and New Caledonia, now produce large volumes of warm wastewater through beer production processes and bottle washing processes. While the facilities in Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu use settling tanks or septic tank systems as primary treatment, they are generally underused or inadequate. Only in Tonga is the wastewater discharged to a land treatment facility some distance from the shoreline (Convard 1993, pp26-27).

The growth of larger industrial bases in Fiji and New Caledonia now produce the largest industrial wastes in the region. A 1992 study of Suva Harbour, Fiji, documented the identification of a range of pollutants including heavy metals, solvents, and other hazardous materials, which enter the harbour directly or through tributary drains and streams. The study showed the importance of the range of small industries in contributing to marine pollution (Convard 1993, p27).


There is no doubt that a matter of great concern to this forum exists regarding the changing consumption patterns in the urban areas of Small Island Developing States of the Pacific. These consumption patterns have been influenced by unsustainable urbanization trends and a desire for a rapid economic growth and a modern life style. By abandoning traditional practices and values in preference for a modern economy the Pacific Islanders have placed undue stress on their extremely scarce natural resources. The increasing industrial production and an urban life style mimicking western values have resulted in the consumption of more water and land resources. Further, the shift to imported packaged goods has a tendency to produce greater volumes of waste than the traditional disposal methods can cope with on urban land already constrained by higher density settlements.

Strategies need to be urgently devised to mitigate the negative impacts of unsustainable consumption trends in Pacific Islands. These strategies should include, appropriate early warning systems and awareness campaigns to highlight probable consequences of such consumption patterns as well as an effective and sustainable population dispersion program.

Note: In the preparation of this paper a survey was attempted seeking information on changing consumption patterns from various Pacific Island Nations. Due to time constraints responses were only received from the Department of Town and Country Planning, Fiji; the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Samoa; and Lands and Survey Division, Kiribati. The authors would like to extand their sincere appreciation to these agencies and the officers responsible for their contribution.


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