Pacific Islands have a population of more than 4 million people, spread across hundreds of islands, and scattered over an area equal to about 15 percent of the globe’s surface. Fiji is the largest among these islands and has a population of approximately 850,000. Tuvalu, one of the smallest islands, has an estimated population of 10,500. Kiribati is one of the most remote and geographically dispersed with 33 islands spread over 3.5 million square kilometers of ocean, which is an area larger than India. The Solomon Islands has 1,000 small islands and atolls with a population of 500,000 spread throughout, 83 percent are in remote areas of 40 percent below the age of 14.
According to the World Bank, since independence, Pacific Island countries have achieved some significant gains. Infant mortality rates have lowered, life expectancy has increased and infectious disease has declined. But true economic growth has been slow and well below the global average for developing countries.
Pacific Island countries share similar economic challenges. Their small size, limited natural resources, limited local economic market and long distance to major markets affect growth and have led to a high degree of economic volatility. These countries are some of the most vulnerable in the world to the effects of climate change and natural disasters. Based on a World Bank report, of the 20 countries in the world with the highest average annual disaster losses scaled by gross domestic product, eight are Pacific island countries including: Vanuatu, Niue, Tonga, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Marshall Islands, and the Cook Islands.
Not only do the Pacific islands have vulnerable populations, the world stands to loose a critical habitat if growth in this region is not managed sustainably. Called the “epicenter of the current global extinction” by Conservation International, the Pacific region claims the largest number of documented extinctions. The plants and animals that inhabit Pacific islands are often found nowhere else on Earth and vulnerable to extinction from habitat destruction (for example by fire or deforestation), competition from introduced organisms, agricultural poisons, or harvesting.