Aniwa is the fourth southern-most island of Vanuatu and is about 8 km2 (3 square miles) and having about 350 people living on it, I believe I met most of them. The boat comes to this island once every month or two, but there is a one-hour twice-weekly flight to the capital of Vanuatu, Port Vila. I have been to lots of islands in the Pacific, but have never been to Aniwa because of its remoteness and it would seem the chances of me going there again are slim.
I had the honor of representing UNDP at the opening of a rehabilitated road, drift creek crossing and hill pavement in Aniwa and witness first-hand the work of the GEF-funded UNDP Vanuatu Coastal Adaptation Project (VCAP). Why is a rehabilitated road in Aniwa so important?
Like most people, I take good roads for granted. Everyday on my way to work in Suva, I come across pot-holes and find myself complaining or questioning, why not fix the roads and the drainage so that this doesn’t happen in the future.
Well in Aniwa, they had an un-improved dirt road. When it rained it was muddy, slippery and at times impassable. This was especially true in the sections that a small dry river bed which floods with rain and the hills along the road.
Imagine not being able to get to school, get to the health clinic, bring your crops to market. These were the types of impacts the people of Aniwa were having in the time of heavy rain. The rehabilitation of the road, while not sealed, was constructed such that getting bogged down in the mud is no longer an issue. Further, during heavy rains they will still have access to school, health clinic and even markets.
One thing I did not mention yet, was that there is only one road in Aniwa and that is the road we rehabilitated, thus all the inhabitants of the island regardless of age or gender benefit from this improvement.
When I was asked to come forward to cut the ribbon on the road, which I must admit is my first ribbon-cutting in my life, I was honored to be standing face to face with the very community that would benefit from this work. While I was standing there, I noticed the children and their smiling faces and that the “ribbon” was made from local vines and there were numerous oranges hung along the archway which the community created over the road.
After I cut the ribbon, I cut down the oranges and handed them to other members of our delegation which consisted of government representatives and the VCAP team. We all remarked how sweet the oranges were and indeed they were. I understood from the experience that Aniwa is known throughout Vanuatu for its sweet oranges.
What also struck me is that the project was not only looking at the road improvement, but also established a nursery for raising climate-resilient crops. As mentioned before, there is limited transport in and out of the island, so food security and commercial crops for community income are extremely important.
The project also supported the establishment of tambu on the reef system around the island and the deployment of reef and offshore Fish Aggregation Devices or FADs to improve fish catches. As such, I could see how this project could transform a community and build their resilience.
Another aspect of Aniwa that fascinated me, was the Polynesian connection. The Pacific is crudely divided up into three areas, Polynesian, Melanesia and Micronesia. Vanuatu is in Melanesia. What I found so interesting was that the words the Aniwans were using were Polynesian, such as fafetai for Thank you. In Samoa it is Fa’afetai, In Tuvalu it is fakafetai and is similar in some other Polynesian languages. When I asked about this, everyone said, yes, Aniwa has Polynesian influence along with one other island nearby in Vanuatu called Futuna. As such, Aniwa is known as a Polynesian outlier.
The day culminated in a ceremony in the village, where people including me gave short speeches. As I was sitting there enjoying more sweet oranges, I thought to myself this is what we mean by “leaving no one behind” in the context of the SDGs. The work in Aniwa makes a material difference in their lives and UNDP in partnership with the government have been able to help Aniwa on their own sustainable development pathway.