9 Feb 2024

French Pacific news in brief

6:02 pm on 9 February 2024
Yams being harvested in New Caledonia.

Yams being harvested in New Caledonia. Photo: Supplied

Yam New Year

Celebrations to mark the new year for Yams have started earlier this month in Kanak villages of Maré island (Loyalty Islands group).

In the tribes of Pénélo and Cuaden, the tradition involves a series of rituals that all aim at blessing the new crop for the sacred tuber, with strong implications for families.

Hot stone meals are also being prepared with their new Yams to mark the event and usually honour the youngest siblings of the family.

Similar ceremonies will take place later in February in other parts of New Caledonia.

Chinese new year celebrations in French Polynesia

French Polynesia's affluent Chinese community is again celebrating this lunar New Year under the sign of the Wooden Dragon.

In the capital Papeete, until February 24, the numerous Tahiti-Chinese associations have organised a whole array of public celebrations, including the traditional lion dance in the streets, but also Chinese acrobats brought in especially from China to entertain.

In the capital Papeete, streets will be closed to traffic to host the annual event and participants displaying Chinese food, arts and craft, fashion shows, martial arts demonstrations, dances and songs, New Year Ball and dinners at the headquarters of the "Sini Tong" association.

French Polynesia's Chinese affluent community has been well-established and well integrated over the past century.

"The Year of the Dragon always augurs well...It is always marked by creativity and innovation", Si Ni Tong association President Patrick Yeung told local media Tahiti-Presse.

French Polynesia’s Chinese community celebrates the Wooden Dragon.

French Polynesia’s Chinese community celebrates the Wooden Dragon. Photo: Association Si Ni Tong

Petrol stations run dry in Wallis and Futuna

A strike from employees at Wallis and Futuna's only petrol retail company has caused all service stations on the French Pacific territory to run dry, bringing all motor traffic to a halt, Wallis et Futuna la 1ère reports.

The strike started on 31 January, 2024 following the termination of one staff of the SWAFEPP (Société Wallisienne et Futunienne des produits pétroliers) and has since continued.

This has caused the 5 service stations on Wallis island and the three others on Futuna to be unable to provide fuel.

The situation has been aggravated by the fact that the angry employees had notified the general public of their intention to strike, therefore causing a rush on all service stations by cars and truck owners who wanted to stock up.

Fuels reserves have however been requisitioned by the French Prefect in charge of essential services such as the power plant, the airport and the hospital.

No more fuel PICTURE Wallis and Futuna la 1ère

No more fuel Photo: Wallis and Futuna la 1ère

France-PNG status of forces agreement

The French government has made a special presentation at its cabinet meeting on Wednesday concerning the French-PNG status of forces and defence cooperation agreement signed between the two countries late October 2022.

The SOFA agreement is scheduled to be tabled in the French Parliament shortly for ratification.

As part of its Indo-Pacific strategy implementation, France, which hosted a South Pacific Defence Ministers'Meeting in Nouméa early December 2023, has signed similar agreements with other Pacific island states such as Fiji and is currently studying the same with Australia.

France, through its New Caledonia base, is taking part in Pacific exercises and has indicated it wanted to set up a "Pacific Military Academy" to train soldiers from neighbouring countries such as Fiji, PNG, Tonga or Vanuatu in the fields of post-disaster humanitarian assistance exercises, fisheries surveillance.

"The strengthening of our level of defence cooperation with Papua New Guinea...has made it necessary to adopt a stronger and more adapted legal framework to secure all these activities", the French government said in a release.

As part of a Pacific tour in July 2023, French President Macron visited New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.

Shark attacks on the rise - global survey

The number of shark attacks has increased globally in 2023, according to statistics released earlier this month by International Shark Attack File (ISAF, University of Florida).

The ISAF has counted 69 shark attacks globally (as opposed to 63 in 2022), under the category "unprovoked bites" and a total of ten fatalities which took place in Australia (4), the United States (2), the Bahamas (1), Egypt (1), Mexico (1) and New Caledonia (1 in February last year, an Australian tourist at a Nouméa beach).

In New Caledonia, after an initial response by local authorities to organise systematic culling of any sighted shark species, the situation has since stabilised with the introduction of protection nets on the most popular beaches.

ISAF Study co-author Gavin Naylor however stresses that the global population of sharks has dramatically dropped by some 71 percent over the past 50 years.

A tiger shark

A tiger shark Photo: Supplied

New hopes for dengue vaccine

A new one-shot dengue vaccine developed by a Brazilian research laboratory is currently in testing stages.

The new medicine, codenamed Butantan-DV, has been injected on over 16,000 patients in Brazil over the past eight years and initial results have shown that it is efficient on over ninety percent of the 18+ age class.

If granted the necessary marketing approvals, it could be distributed by the end of 2025 at the earliest.

Several other pharmaceutical companies have also been working on a dengue vaccine over the past ten years, but initial results have shown that they induce too many side effects, especially for first-time dengue sufferers, like the Dengvaxia, developed by French giant Sanofi Pasteur.

Another one, produced by Japanese company Takeda, does not cover all four existing serotypes of dengue.

Dengue fever is transmitted by mosquitoes and is particularly prevalent in the Pacific region.

Other approaches to fight the mosquito-borne disease have involved attempts to reduce the mosquito population by releasing genetically modified males that "sterilise" females.

Tests are being currently conducted in New Caledonia and French Polynesia.

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