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Australian envoy sees better focus under new north Pacific aid pactsNew aid agreements with three north Pacific nations have brought focus and flexibility to addressing development needs in the islands, said the Australian Ambassador for the area on Thursday.
Until recently, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau were lumped together as the North Pacific in Australian foreign policy, said Ambassador Susan Cox, who is based in Pohnpei in the Federated States of Micronesia. Now, Australia has signed direct agreements separately with each of these three nations, giving more focus and country-specific goals to its aid programs in each country.
She cited the recent Australia-Marshall Islands aid partnership agreement as moving relations between the two nations to a new level.
As a result of the agreement, Australia is focusing its aid and technical assistance on energy and water and sanitation needs in the Marshall Islands, she said.
Australia has been funding an energy advisor stationed with the Ministry of Resources and Development in Majuro, and will soon be providing a water advisor to work with the utilities and the Environmental Protection Authority, she said.
A key issue is to work with Marshall Islands officials to produce a water policy and implement an action plan based on the policy, said AusAid manager Majella Walsh, who is based in Pohnpei at the Australian Embassy.
Ms Cox said the Australian government will join with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community and the European Union in supporting funding for water catchment tanks for homes that do not have fresh water storage in the Marshall Islands. Nearly 1,000 tanks have been installed for households in several islands with EU and SPC funding. The low-lying atoll nation relies for nearly all of its fresh water on rain, so storage tanks are key to improving the quality of life, Ms Cox said.
“There is no point in starting something new because the water tank project is working,” said Walsh. “We’ll support it.”
Australia is devoting $750,000 each to the energy and water sectors, the ambassador said.
In addition to energy and water, Australia provides scholarships for university study to six Marshall Islanders a year, and offers $100,000 a year for development projects in the Marshall Islands through a small grants scheme aimed at non-government organization. A new climate change adaptation fund is also offering $100,000 for projects here this year, Ms Cox said. During her visit to Majuro, Ms Cox met with many of the member groups in the Marshall Islands Council of Non-Government Organizations to provide information on these grant opportunities.
The new aid agreements with the three north Pacific nations has improved relations between Australia and these countries, she said. It’s now a truly bilateral program and is flexible to look at different needs, Ms Cox said.
There is an annual development consultation that is an opportunity to review the partnership and see if it is achieving its goals, she added.
SOURCE: MARIANAS VARIETY/PACNEWS
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