April 6, 2013
Most people think of the South Pacific as a land of sunshine, beaches and palm trees … which it is. But there is a much darker side to South Pacific: disease. The countries are suffering from an epidemic of obesity, heart disease, and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The attached chart came across my desk the other day and it paints a very distressing picture. Compared to other lower middle income countries, we are significantly higher for NCDs with both women and men.
The accompanying report noted that “Each of the 10 countries in the Pacific for which data is available have 60% or more of the adult population overweight, and in six countries more than 75% are overweight. In four countries in the Pacific at least half of the adult population is obese”. Some 70% of all deaths are NCDs, and life expectancy is falling. Given the precarious nature of the government finances in the Pacific, this is a disaster and a real development challenge. Much harder than building infrastructure!
April 2, 2013
You know that your job takes you to out of the way countries when your current work places represent 20% of the list of the ‘25 Least Visited Countries in the World’. These are (in descending order) #19 Tonga; #18 Timor Leste; #11 Solomon Islands; #4 Kiribati and #3 Tuvalu. Quite the contrast to a few years ago when I worked in China (the third most visited country).
The author also has an interesting perspective on Tuvalu. Quite fascinating to see how things that look so normal to me are noteworthy to a first time visitor. He forgot to mention that it is probably one of the only countries in the world with absolutely no credit card facilities. If you forget your cash you’ve got problems…
March 19, 2013
I was sitting in the Air Canada lounge at Toronto airport chatting with a passenger about the joys of being an incessant traveller. One thing that we can count on is having flights cancelled. Considering the frequency that I travel this happens not as often as one would think. But it does nonetheless happen. She asked me for some of my experiences and half way through she said that I should write them down. Good suggestion … so here we are.
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October 10, 2012
As regular readers of this blog know, I’m a somewhat frequent traveller – typically over 150 days a year of business travel. One thing you learn is to roll with the punches and to expect bad things to happen—like losing your luggage. My worst experiences were with Air Canada, who wanted me to come to Beijing airport to collect my bag when it finally arrived, even though I was about 1500 km away in outback China, or United who lost my bag for 10 days between Los Angeles and Washington D.C. I wrote up that experience here, and shared the great music video ‘United Breaks Guitars’ about someone else’s less than satisfactory experience with United.
Recently, I had my first trip ever with Virgin America from San Francisco to Washington D.C. and, unfortunately, they left one of my two bags in San Francisco. However, they largely turned the situation around by providing what is now a totally abstract concept with most airlines: customer service. So much so, that in the future I will do what I can to fly them. How did they turn a bad situation around? It was actually quite easy:
- When I exited the flight there was a fellow with a sign with my name on it. He said my bag had not been loaded in San Francisco and they did not want me waiting at the baggage carousel for it when they knew it would not arrive. I was told to talk to a customer service agent at the carousel.
- At the carousel the woman said – you must be Mr. Bennett. She had a form ready to fill out and for me to sign.
- The next morning at 10:00 when I got up (I arrived at midnight) my bag was at the place I was staying.
Talk about minimizing inconvenience to a passenger! If United, Air Canada, Lufthansa, Qantas and other airlines who have left me waiting for the carousel to stop turning and the lights to go out to realize my bags would not be arriving would adopt practices like this they would get customer loyalty. Well done Virgin America.
March 23, 2012
I went for a run in Funafuti. Being a narrow atoll, you have two options upon leaving the hotel: turn left or turn right. I had decided to do a long run so it was to the left. Eight kilometres later and the road ended; that is the length of the island (the red line in the satellite image below). Had I turned to the right it ends just over three kilometres. So just enough to do a half marathon by running to both ends of the island.
One really gets a sense of perspective on just how small Funafuti atoll is when you are standing on the one road and the island is less than 40 metres wide. But besides reflecting on how small the place was, what my really brought home was the problem with garbage. Never before have I seen so much in such a small area.
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October 30, 2011
Just under a year ago I came to Kiribati to identify an aviation investment project. I flew in with our lawyer Marta and administrative assistant Daniel to finish the process by negotiating the terms of the $US 23 million grant we would be providing.
Since Marta was with me I arranged for a VIP reception and while she waited in the lounge I went out to have a look at the runway which is deteriorating very quickly. The photo to the left shows the high quality of the middle of the runway. I paced off some 350 square metres which we need to get fixed very soon.
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October 4, 2011
Rob Kaiwai is a really neat fellow. Not only because he stores my bike and trainer in the Tarawa High Commission’s garage. A former multi-sport athlete, he has great personal energy and enthusiasm.
It’s not easy working in Kiribati, and to spend several years there managing a major development program is quite an achievement. On September 12, 2011 Rob was interviewed on Radio New Zealand and this interview really captures Kiribati’s challenges. As Radio New Zealand notes:
Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully has described the job of High Commissioner to Kiribati as the toughest assignment in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Rob Kaiwai talks about the challenges of representing NZ in one of the most remote and geographically dispersed countries in the world, and the challenges Kiribati faces from climate change and population growth.
I love is way of describing Tarawa: imaging standing in the middle of a motorway with nothing but ocean on either side. Brilliant. And very accurate. Listen here and learn.