Nine steps to cut poverty and inequality in Pacific Island Countries: Jobs, education and social protection top the agenda in a UN report on the Pacific

Aug 30, 2014

Haoliang Xu, the UNDP Assistant Administrator and the Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific addresses journalists at the press conference. Photo: Abril Esquivel / UNDP

A new United Nations report offers concrete recommendations to reverse a rising trend of poverty, vulnerability and exclusion in Pacific Island countries. The report, launched ahead of next week’s International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in Samoa, presents specific policy options on how to foster more inclusive and sustainable human development during a time of profound change in the Pacific region.


“Many good initiatives are already happening in the Pacific,” said Haoliang Xu, UN Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Director, Regional Bureau for Asia and the Pacific. “But, as our report points out, major challenges persist.”


The State of Human Development in the Pacific: A Report on Vulnerability and Exclusion in a time of rapid change examines the stark realities of a region in which one in four people are now living below their national basic-needs poverty line; and also have limited access to essential services such as education and health services. Obesity, diabetes and other non-communicable diseases are on the rise throughout the region.


The report presents a picture of a changing social and economic regional landscape, based on the latest available data and new analysis. Economies are shifting from traditional systems built on the exchange of products to market-led cash-based ones; young people are migrating from their villages to find jobs in cities and abroad, leaving women, the very old and the very young behind; traditional family and social protection systems are in decline; climate change is threatening agricultural production and traditional livelihoods and intensifying the impact of natural disasters.


“Youth and women deserve particular attention,” added Mr. Xu. “Low and volatile growth has made job creation increasingly difficult. Women have lower access to employment and often work in informal sector with no labour rights, social security or welfare. For youth, the unemployment rate is 23 percent, on average, or twice the global average.”


The report provides useful analysis of poverty and exclusion data and offers recommendations on how to strategically address exclusion, inequality and vulnerabilities in the Pacific.


The UN Agencies involved in the report’s production were: The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA). 


Key recommendations in the report:


Give priority to social protection – According to the report, universal cash grants to all children under five would cost 1.7 percent of GDP in Kiribati, Samoa and Solomon Islands and 0, 7 percent of GDP in Vanuatu. In turn, it would lead to a 10 percent reduction in the proportion of households living in poverty. The report cautions that such measures should be carefully targeted and monitored. Other examples include pension and care for the elderly, free medical care for pregnant women and support for people with disabilities. The report also mentions using new technology and mobile teams to bring health and other essential services to people living in rural areas and outer islands.


Develop a better understanding of vulnerability and exclusion -- Improved surveys and data-collection systems can help to inform and target policies and programmes to those most in need.


Promote broader access to basic education for children and youth – A focus on primary education is essential with adequate national budgets for school literacy and numeracy. Making public secondary education free or less costly would greatly assist low-income families.


Expand employment opportunities for youth and women -- This means creating more opportunities for technical, vocational and trade skills for youth and women and providing free or low-cost public secondary education to assist low-income families.


Provide adequate health services for prevention and care -- Government and national health authorities can improve infant, child and maternal health by strengthening primary health care programmes, improving access to emergency obstetric care and expanding immunization programmes and prevention efforts against HIV and AIDS. Concerted campaigns to promote better nutrition and physical exercise and discourage smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can help address the early onset of non-communicable diseases.


Target poverty reduction programmes– If interventions to reduce poverty are to be effective and financially feasible, they must be based on approaches that allocate resources and assistance directly to poor households. Resources should be channelled to benefit those most in need. Better use of data from household income and expenditure surveys can help to inform and target poverty reduction initiatives.


Use innovative policies and technologies – Using new technology to improve access to health services, including low-cost diagnostics, and information about diseases, can help to reach rural areas and outer islands and reduce geographic inequalities.


Adopt a ‘green-growth’ approach to development – Green growth policies should aim to improve productivity and promote the sustainable use of land and marine resources by the rural poor. In a green-economy, land and natural resource management decisions should be based on both environmental and social costs. These should be carefully assessed and balanced between the economic benefits of exploiting a natural resource and providing employment for the poor.


UNDP is working with the Pacific islands governments, multilateral organizations, and civil society through its offices in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and Samoa. Its work concentrates on disaster preparedness and recovery, strengthening democratic governance, achieving the Millennium Development Goals, and promoting access of the poor to financial services. For more information about UNDP and the SIDS Conference, please visit

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