Posted by : Posted on : 23-Feb-2020

A simple gift of water tanks to a rural school opens-up thoughts on development aid

A letter I wrote yesterday and posted on Facebook related to the generous gift of five water tanks to a rural Primary School in North-East Guadalcanal.

In that letter I mentioned those reading the story in the developed world might have queried the significance of such a gift in this modern age.

To the staff and pupils of the Barana Primary School those water tanks have been life changing since, prior to their arrival, the school children had to walk for more than a kilometer into the nearby forest to collect their drinking water.

The story serves to underscore the needs evident in the Solomon Islands, still a developing nations despite nearly 42 years of independence.

Health, disease control, education, sanitation, water supplies and energy needs, particularly green energy sources, jobs and infrastructure are all major requirements.

Solomon Islands development partners continue to aid the government’s needs and, while Australian aid had focused for the past decade or more on aiding programmes concerned with health, education and gender equality, the Australian aid has seen something of a shift towards infrastructure spending in terms of agriculture, fisheries and water, with less allocated to aiding health, education and governance programmes.

Some have argued that the shift in Australia’s aid programmes has been influenced by the way China is seen to offer a lot of infrastructure.

Solomon Islands recent diplomatic ties with China and the signing of several MOU’s should see China providing the kind of large-scale infrastructure the Solomon Islands has been needing since gaining independence in terms of roads, communications and medical services.

The unemployment situation in the Solomon Islands, however, is acute especially amongst the youth and one would hope that when Chinese infrastructure development does occur there will be job opportunities for local people as part of any contract undertakings.

I mention this because it has been the case in those countries where Chinese aid programmes have been initiated the condition of using a Chinese contractor to implement an aid project has created some problems

As I understand the situation regarding civil projects constructed in recipient countries with the help of financial resources provided by China, the Chinese side is responsible for the whole or part of the process. This has been said to include the initial study, survey, design and construction, part or all of the equipment requirements, Chinese engineers and technical personnel, installation and trials.

Once a project is completed, China hands it over to the recipient country. The condition of using a Chinese contractor to implement an aid projection has presented host countries with challenges.

Let us hope there will not be similar issues in the Solomon Islands with the projected infrastructure plans on offer from the Chinese government and the employment opportunities local people most need will be realized in the fulfillment of the infrastructure and development schemes long awaited.

Yours sincerely

Frank Short

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