Author: Denika Blacklock Karim, Theory in Practice
‘Asia’ as a singular region is massive – it has a population of 3.73 billion people. The Pacific, in contrast, consists of 22 island nations with a population of just over 10 million people. Yet, time and again, development analysis looks at the ‘Asia-Pacific’ as a singular entity, with the Pacific constituting 0.2% of the population of the ‘Asia-Pacific’ region. Indeed, the entire population of the Pacific barely equals the population of a single Asian country. However, culturally, economically and historically, Asia and the Pacific are vastly different.
The remoteness of Pacific island countries means that challenges which have mostly been overcome in Asia – such as the accessibility of technology, transportation and access to markets – are daily challenges; not only between countries, but within them, too. And while all countries are vulnerable to climate change and its associated risks and challenges, in the Pacific the impacts of a changing climate are the reality, whereas in Asia the risks aren’t so imminent. We can talk about food security, access to health care – access to anything really, and the story will be the same. The challenges facing the Pacific are far greater and far more acute than in ‘Asia’ as a whole.
Nonetheless, the development community continues to debate in a regional perspective, presenting trends and issues as though there is some commonality between Afghanistan in the West and Cook Islands in the East. Asia itself is so big that analysts break it down into sub-regions: East Asia, South East Asia and South Asia. But doing so marginalizes the needs of some of the most vulnerable communities on the planet.
For example, the 2014 World Development Report analysed all MDG-related sectors using a regional breakdown, one of which was ‘East Asia and the Pacific.’ This included countries such as Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and the entire Pacific region. The data presented was overall positive, showing remarkable progress against development challenges such as gender equality, access to health care and education, literacy rates, and employment. However, hidden deep within the ‘Notes’ section, the methodological process admits to evaluating statistical data only from countries with a population of ‘more than 500,000.’ meaning that of the 22 countries in the Pacific, only two qualified: Papua New Guinea and Fiji.
Not only are we getting skewed data which suggests that challenges are being overcome, we are perhaps not getting any data at all. The entire development ‘picture’ of the Pacific is absent from analysis of ‘Asia-Pacific’. The World Development Report is not the only publication guilty of this – reports with titles that include ‘in Asia-Pacific’ often do not even mention the Pacific, or if they do, reference one or two countries.
This flawed development analysis has negative repercussions. Policy makers in donor countries allocate funding based on needs presented in publications such as the World Development Report. The Pacific is receiving a minute fraction of what it needs in order to address the challenges it is facing because the challenges they are facing are presented through skewed data.
Some efforts are being made to focus on the unique challenges facing countries in the Pacific – and those like them. For example, the Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) conference and representation in the UN covers all island states – including in the Indian Ocean and Caribbean. The platform largely aims to raise awareness about the acute risks presented by climate change to these countries.
Nonetheless, does it make sense for us to discuss, plan and review with an ‘Asia-Pacific’ mindset? Continuing to do so only causes harm to some of the most vulnerable communities in the world. We must redress how we think about demonstrating progress, and re-prioritize the most vulnerable in global development discourse.