19 Apr 2023

Pacific news in brief for April 19

4:59 pm on 19 April 2023

Fiji - debt

The World Bank says Fiji must manage its rising debt issue as it experiences an "economic crisis of unprecedented scale".

Anew report released on Tuesday said the global pandemic, natural disasters and the Russia-Ukraine war are the principal causes for the economic situation the county is in.

Fiji's debt reached 90 percent of GDP in 2022.

The report projects debt levels are likely to threaten Fiji's ongoing economic recovery from the pandemic and sustainable economic development.

Deputy Prime Minister Biman Prasad said the new government strives to get Fiji back on a path of fiscal sustainability and financial discipline.

He said the findings will be considered in an effort to reduce its debt.

Tonga - tsunami

Massive tsunami waves dozens of metres high, caused by the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai eruption, had been significantly reduced as a result of shallow sea floors around the affected islands.

A grab taken from footage by Japan's Himawari-8 satellite and released by the National Institute of Information and Communications (Japan) on January 15, 2022 shows the volcanic eruption that provoked a tsunami in Tonga.

The Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcanic eruption caused massive tsunami waves. Photo: AFP / National Institute of Information and Communications

According to a study published by the University of Miami, shallow sea floors act as waves traps - reducing the size of waves as they approach land.

Researchers used a combination of before-and-after satellite imagery, drone mapping, and field observations, and data from the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation Global Reef Expedition, to produce a tsunami simulation of the Tongan Archipelago.

The results showed how the complex shallow bathymetry in the region acted as a low-velocity wave trap, capturing a more than hour-long tsunami with waves up to 85 metres high one minute after the initial explosion.

The peak height of currents generated by the explosion is estimated to have been 85 metres high.

The tsunami had reduced to just 2 metres when hitting Tonga's main island of Tongatapu - just 65 kilometres away from the volcano.

The relatively low casualty rate of just three people, has astonished scientists given the the magnitude of the eruption, estimated to have been more than 15 megatons - 500 times more powerful than atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.

Vanuatu - climate app

A 'Climate Watch App' is being developed for Vanuatu, a first for the Pacific.

Vanuatu is testing the ground-breaking app that looks to provide a solution to data collection challenges faced by Pacific Island countries.

It will act as traditional knowledge indicators for climate.

The Pacific Island nation is made up of 80 islands stretched out over 1,300 kilometres across the central Pacific ocean.

Travel to some of the outer islands to collect data is a challenge, and because the country's current observation and monitoring systems is in paper form, postage costs and return time delays are also issues from it.

The Vanuatu Klaemet Infomesen blong Redy, Adapt mo Protekt (VanKIRAP) Project in partnership with Earthwatch Australia, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, and the Climate and Oceans Support Programme in the Pacific (COSPPac) have developed a mobile application as a potential solution to these challenges.

Pacific/South Korea - cooperation

South Korea's President Yoon Suk Yeol will host a summit with leaders from Pacific island nations in May to discuss ways to expand cooperation between Korea and the region, his office says.

The inaugural South Korea-Pacific Islands Summit will be held in Seoul with the participation of leaders from all 18 members of the Pacific Islands Forum.

The Korea Times reported the president's office saying it expects the two-day summit to elevate the country's diplomatic status as it contributes to resolving the issues faced by Pacific island nations, such as climate change, disaster response and regional development, and pursue joint prosperity.

It also sees the event as a chance to strengthen the international community's support for South Korea's bid to host the 2030 World Expo in Busan.

Pacific/Australia - geopolitics

Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong says her country is engaged in a strategic competition with China in the Indo-Pacific region.

Wong made statement during her address to the National Press Club in Canberra.

She said Australia is maintaining a positive influence in the Pacific, citing development aid and the Pacific Mobility Scheme.

"We make our concerns clear when countries don't respect Pacific institutions, or impose unsustainable debt burdens, or when announcements aren't followed by delivery that benefits communities," she said.

"What we want is for Australia to be a partner in the region, partners not patriarchs."

Wong's statement comes amidst heightened tensions between China and Western nations.

Tonga - robots

Locally manufactured robots designed to clean solar panels will be trialled this year for the Kingdom's public energy provider - Tonga Power Limited.

The toy sized remote controllled robot called "Bourke Bot" was designed and invented by 26 year old Arthur Cocker, owner of Tongan company Defiant Robotics.

15 % of Tonga's energy is currently generated by solar farms, which require solar panels to be regularly clean in order to absorb sunlight.

Cocker showcased the "Bourke Bot" in a public demonstration for Tonga Power Limited in Nuku'alofa.

He told Matangi Tonga Online, the robot could be placed permanently on the solar panels, and uses sensors to move along and clean the panel's surface.

Tahiti - royal

A descendant of Tahiti's Pomare royal family has been installed as King Pomare XI in a ceremony in Papeete.

The event comes two years after Joinville Pomare relaunched what he calls the Pomare Principality in a ceremony at the tomb of King Pomare V.

He is now to be known as Teriihinoiatua Joinville Hinoiariki Pomare XI.

The ceremony was also attended by New Zealand's King Tuheitia Pootatau Te Wherowhero.

France no longer recognises a Tahitian royal family, although in 1880 Paris signed a treaty which guaranteed that the titles and customs of the Polynesians under its control would be maintained.

Pacific - marine sanctuary

The US's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA is considering creating a new national marine sanctuary in the waters around Pacific Islands.

The US Pacific Remote Island Area includes seven islands that are under the jurisdiction of the United States and lie between Hawaii and American Samoa.

The addition of the Pacific Remote Islands marine sanctuary was directed last month by President Joe Biden and affirmed by the Department of Commerce.

US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said the area is home to some of the most diverse coral, fish, marine mammals, seabirds and invertebrates "on the planet."

NOAA announced the proposed sanctuary for 770,000 square miles of central Pacific Ocean on Monday and invited the public to comment on the plan.

"Today, NOAA announced it is starting the process to potentially designate a new national marine sanctuary in the Pacific Remote Islands area," NOAA's National Marine Sanctuaries tweeted.

Fiji - jazz

The US government is showcasing Jazz in Fiji and Tonga by sponsoring a tour by the Jazz group "Sounds of A&R".

The New York based band performed at the Fiji National University on Tuesday and Wednesday put on a lunchtime performance for the public at the FNFP food court in Suva.

Their tour includes workshops and master classes with music students at tertiary and secondary schools.

It forms part of the American Music Abroad program, a US government-sponsored initiative aimed at promoting American culture and music.

Sounds of A&R travel to Tonga next week where they will perform at the Digicel Square in Nukua'lofa.