Fostering a Free and Open Indo-Pacific in the PICs

From semi-aerobic landfill methods to hybrid power generation systems, Japan’s contributions to Pacific Island Countries (PICs) draw on firsthand experience and expertise.

Seventy Islands in Palau

On May 18 and 19 this year, the 8th Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting (PALM8) will be held in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture. [This article from our March/April 2018 issue.] PALM is a triennial summit meeting that commenced in 1997. The aim of the meeting is for Japan to build close cooperative relationships with Pacific Islands Countries (PICs) by exchanging opinions about numerous issues facing PICs. The focal point of PALM8 is the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy, which the Japanese government is promoting. It is a strategy announced by Prime Minister Abe Shinzo at the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI) in 2016, and it aims to promote the stability and prosperity of the entire region connecting the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean through the free and open Indo-Pacific. At PALM8, Japan will announce its policy of promoting this strategy in the region of PICs and will also have intensive discussions about various challenges on maritime issues, self-sustaining and sustainable development including in fields such as climate change and disaster reduction, and invigoration of people-to-people exchanges with the participating countries.

The total population of fourteen countries of PICs that will participate in PALM is around ten million, and about 80% of this population is in Papua New Guinea (about 8 million). Of the other countries, Fiji has the largest population of around 900,000, and Niue has the smallest population of around 1,600. The people in these countries live in rich natural environments and have diverse cultures, but they also have numerous issues. First, because their lands and populations are small, their markets are small, which makes it difficult to develop industries (small size). Second, because their lands are scattered across large bodies of water, it is difficult to provide all nationals with social services, such as electricity, water supply, medicine and education (isolation). In addition, these countries are distant from international markets meaning that the lives of the people are extremely susceptible to changes in food and fuel prices (remoteness). Because they are surrounded by sea, they are also susceptible to damage from natural disasters (oceanity).

According to the World Risk Report 2016, which is an evaluation of the possibility of natural disasters such as earthquakes, typhoons, floods, droughts and rising sea levels affecting 171 countries all over the world and their ability to cope with these disasters, Vanuatu, a Pacific island country, was evaluated as the country that is the most vulnerable to disasters. (The evaluation was undertaken by research teams including the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security.) In addition, PICs ranked in many of the top positions, with Tonga in second place, the Solomon Islands in sixth place and Papua New Guinea in tenth place.

For the Fukushima Iwaki Declaration — “Building Prosperous Future Together,” which was adopted at PALM7 that was held in Iwaki in 2015, the main focus was placed on (1) disaster risk reduction, (2) climate change, (3) environment, (4) people-to-people exchanges, (5) sustainable development, (6) oceans, maritime issues and fisheries and (7) trade, investment and tourism, and it was announced that the participating countries would cooperate in these fields. In addition, for cooperation in promoting the self-sustaining development of PICs, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo announced that Japan would provide support of more than 55 billion yen in three years and that the country would also implement human resource development and people-to-people exchanges of 4,000 people from the FICs.

An orientation meeting for participants on the Pacific Leaders’ Educational Assistance for Development of State (Pacific-LEADS) program at JICA’s Okinawa International Center
Photo: JICA

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) plays an important role in this Japanese cooperation. Based on PALM, JICA provides a wide range of support for PICs. For PALM8, which will be held in May this year, JICA is considering to handle the following issues. First, in terms of maritime assistance, supporting the development of maritime infrastructure such as seaports, ships and maritime safety facilities which are important lifelines for PICs, support in the fields of law enforcement measures for issues such as illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, and support for preservation and management of fishery resources to achieve Goal 14 — Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources — of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Second, in terms of overcoming vulnerability, it will provide support to deal with climate change, natural disasters and environment problems with a view to the utilization of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), for which JICA was designated as an accreditation organization last July. Third, in terms of self-sustaining and sustainable development, support development of infrastructures, including seaports and airports, the energy sector and so on. Fourth, in terms of the invigoration of people-to-people exchanges, continuing the Pacific Leaders’ Educational Assistance for Development of State (Pacific-LEADS), which was launched in 2015 on the basis of PALM7. Pacific-LEADS is a program whereby Japan accepts the administrators in PICs as participants and provides them opportunities to receive education on university master’s programs and internships at central and local governments. More than eighty people have visited Japan and participated in the program so far. Also, in terms of fostering health, improving nutrition and promoting sports, it will provide support for preventing lifestyle-related diseases and promote people-to-people exchanges through sports.

“JICA’s vision is ‘Leading the world with trust,’” says Wakasugi Satoshi, Director of the JICA Pacific and Southeast Asian Division 6. “Based on this vision, we will promote cooperation for supporting the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy in PICs.”

Following are examples of representative projects implemented by JICA in PICs.

Semi-aerobic Landfills (Fukuoka Method)

Workers install a pipe facilitating the decomposition of organic garbage at a disposal site in Yap Island, Micronesia. The Fukuoka Method of semi-aerobic landfills is being widely disseminated in PICs. 

JICA has provided support to PICs for many years and has achieved significant results, for example, in the management of waste. With the concentration of population in urban areas and changes in lifestyles, PICs are seeing an increasing amount of imports of many products from overseas. This has caused an increase in garbage such as plastics and metals. But because they carried out “open dumping” or disposed of all garbage in final disposal sites without sorting naturally degradable organic garbage from other forms of garbage, serious problems occurred, such as odor and methane gas from final disposal sites and the outflow of polluted water into rivers and seas.

To solve these problems, JICA provided assistance with the introduction of a garbage disposal method called Semi-aerobic Landfills (Fukuoka Method), which was developed jointly by the Fukuoka City Government and Fukuoka University in the 1970s. The Fukuoka Method rapidly discharges polluted water from garbage  using pipes set in final disposal sites, and also facilitates the decomposition of organic garbage by taking in air naturally from the pipes. This makes it possible to reduce the amount of garbage and control odor.

In 2003, JICA supported the development of the first final disposal site to introduce the Fukuoka Method in PICs in Samoa. In this development, JICA used locally available materials, such as coconut shells and abandoned tires, and also made efforts to reduce costs. Subsequently, the Fukuoka Method spread to Vanuatu, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, Tonga, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. The problems of odor and polluted water have improved at these disposal grounds.

In addition, since 2011, JICA has implemented the Japanese Technical Cooperation Project for Promotion of the Regional Initiative on Solid Waste Management (J-PRISM) in cooperation with the Pacific Regional Environment Program (SPREP), a regional international organization headquartered in Samoa. Currently, it is implementing J-PRISM Phase 2 as a follow-up project of J-PRISM for nine countries, including Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands. J-PRISM 2 is intended to nurture human resources who tackle garbage issues and to construct and strengthen organizations and systems. One of the characteristics of J-PRISM 2 is that in addition to the conventional 3R (reduce, reuse and recycle) of waste, it aims to return organic garbage, including raw garbage, to nature, a practice which has been implemented since J-PRISM, and return valuable waste products that are sold in the recycling market to overseas countries. J-PRISM 2 is carrying out initiatives for establishing a system to promote “3R plus Return” to the whole of PICs.

“One of our goals is to establish the so-called reverse logistics of collecting used products, returning them to the source or another third country and recycling them as resources,” says Wakasugi. “We will continue to implement projects by utilizing a wide range of collaborative efforts with Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV), senior volunteers and by promoting participation of the private sector.”

Hybrid Power from Okinawa

As mentioned above, Japan announced the Hybrid Island Initiative as one of its assistance projects at PALM7 in 2015. Because PICs depend on imported diesel fuels for a large part of their electricity, high electricity charges stunt economic growth and the change in oil prices has a significant impact on power generation costs and economic activities. In addition, the use of diesel fuels leads to greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change and rising sea levels. In response to this situation, PICs are pushing for the introduction of renewable energy, such as solar and wind power generation. However, renewable energy such as solar and wind power generation is disadvantageous in that weather conditions significantly affect the amount of power generated.

Based on the Hybrid Island Initiative, JICA supports the introduction of the hybrid power generation system for managing diesel power generation and renewable energy-based power generation in an integrated manner, in addition to making diesel power plants more efficient to reduce the consumption of diesel fuel and greenhouse gas emissions. This system enables stable electricity supplies by compensating for unstable renewable energy-based power supplies with diesel power generation and storage batteries. Okinawa Prefecture has played an important role in popularizing hybrid power generation systems in PICs. Diesel power plants have been the main electric suppliers in remote islands in Okinawa, but recently these islands have actively introduced the hybrid power generation system and try to closer to meet all electricity demand by renewable energy.

Workers examine newly installed solar panels constructed with grant aid from JICA in Tonga.

JICA not only provides support for the development of facilities, such as solar and wind power generation, to PICs through grant aid, but has also launched the Project for Introduction of Hybrid Power Generation System in PICs (broader range) in 2017, which utilizes the experience and knowledge that Okinawa has acquired. In this project, which focuses on Fiji, Tuvalu, Kiribati, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, JICA sends Japanese experts to the local areas to provide technical support in order to make hybrid power generation systems more common. In addition, in February this year, JICA implemented a two-week training program for eleven participants from project countries as part of its projects in Okinawa. The participants paid an inspection visit to facilities of hybrid power generation systems, mega-solar and wind power generation. With a further decrease in storage battery prices in recent years, PICs are expected to introduce storage batteries on a large scale and accelerate the introduction of renewable energy on a large scale.

“PICs have very high expectations of Japan in terms of measures for climate change,” says Wakasugi.

“Toward PALM8, we will continue to provide prompt, comprehensive support by using JICA’s diverse schemes for overcoming and improvement of maritime issues, vulnerabilities, self-sustaining and sustainable development, and human resource development.”

SAWAJI Osamu, The Japan Journal 

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