Sandwiched between the Philippines and the Federated States of Micronesia, rising from the deep blue Pacific Ocean, sit the 200 or so limestone and volcanic islands that make up the idyllic paradise of Palau. It is a land of beauty above and below the water, teeming with wildlife, welcoming people, and a rich history - Palau is a veritable tourist dream.
It should come as no surprise then, that tourism is the primary economic driver. But while Palau is renowned for her underwater wonders, champagne beaches and rich cultural offerings, the country has also establishedherself at the regional and global level as a smart ocean state: a small island nation taking pride in being a leader in ocean conservation.
Ironically for a region that produces the majority of the tuna canned in the world, imported canned tuna is one of the main sources of protein in the Pacific islands. Palauans are looking to buck this trend, one can at a time.
Palauan village fishers are up-skilling, with the help of a micro-canning training initiative, in order to add value to their artisanal catches and create a premium shelf stable seafood product that offers tourists a healthy memento of their time in Palau. This memento is in the form of a can of locally caught and locally canned tuna – very much “fish with a story”. A trial label developed
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TOURISM continues to be Palau’s bread and butter and a contributed to its economic growth for the past two years but a recent private sector assessment by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) says that the country’s strength masks several pressing issues.
The assessment result which has been the result of consultation with the private sector stated, “Palau has registered 2 years of substantial economic growth and per capita income has risen to slightly in excess of $16,000, the second highest in the Pacific region. Yet the strong performance of the economy masks some pressing issues, particularly with respect to the tourism industry.”
It added that aside from tourism industry, Palau has pressing issues with its foreign investment policies, state-owned enterprise efficiency, access to finance and tax laws. Paul Holden, ADB’s Pacific Private Sector Development Initiative (PDSI) lead economist who presented the report at the Palau Chamber of Commerce weeks ago, said that all laws and policies cannot make a difference in making changes unless enforcement is worked on.
Holden said although there is a proliferation of front businesses, getting rid of these businesses would be bad for the economy as they provide a service in Palau especially in the tourism industry. The report also pointed out that in spite of the strong economic performance, a number of pressing problems face Palau,” which will require strategic policy decisions that will impact both the economy and society”.
IN the far west of the northern Pacific, a single patrol boat stands against the waves of Distant Water Fishing Nation vessels which threaten the region’s fish stocks. Outnumbered and outgunned, the President Remelik will soon be replaced by a state of the art Australian ship complemented by a Japanese patrol vessel. But coming out of the west every day are fishing boats from as far afield as Myanmar and Vietnam who pillage the waters of the northern and south-western Pacific. Conservative estimates place the losses to the region through illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing at 306,440 tonnes worth anywhere between US$152.67million and US$616m. Palau’s Fisheries Minister, Urich Sengebau, says pirate vessels take four-five per cent of this catch – that is 11,000 tonnes worth about $20m.
The northern Pacific republic punches well above its weight in terms of ocean security and conservation. In October 2015, Palau passed a law converting 80 per cent of its territorial waters into a marine sanctuary, prohibiting commercial fishing, oil drilling, and seabed mining. “To provide alternative livelihoods for affected households, the government will promote ecotourism,” Sengebau said. “And we will charge a new environmental impact fee to replace lost revenues from banning commercial fishing in Palau.” Every traveller through Palau’s airports and wharves is charged $20 upon departure and this is channelled to government revenue. The country was forced to take the action after the Asian Development Bank projected that fishing licenses in Palau would decline by 8.5 per cent with the creation of the country’s Marine Sanctuary.
A PROLONGED drought blamed on the El Nino weather system has dropped water levels to an even critical threshold at the remaining reservoir that the National Emergency Committee (NEC) fears that without rain the reservoir will run dry in the coming weeks. “Palau Public Utilities Corporation (PPUC) estimates that based on the current water level and usage rates and assuming conditions persists unabated, a total water outage is likely to occur in the next two to three weeks,”
NEC chairman Antonio Bells said in an April 1 letter to President Remengesau. President Remengesau as a result of the NEC’s advise sought an extension of the State of Emergency declaration which lapsed April 2 but lack of quorum in the Senate ended the state of emergency on a technicality.
NEC said that although it has been a productive 10 days with the state of emergency being utilised to identify existing wells, procure equipment to address water shortage, an extension of the declaration is necessary to “adequately implement measures tailored to mitigating this ongoing crisis and make reasonable preparations for a total water outage.”
Press Secretary Olkeriil Kazuo said that one water well will be operational this week stating that tests of the water was needed to be done before its allowed to be used. Kazuo however said that the water to be produced by the well would still be too little to lift water use restrictions.
ON Oct. 11, Palau was shocked after a 37-year old government employee was found dead on the street in the capital of Koror. Kenneth Koshiba was shot with a gas-powered air rifle. This kind of violence is not a usual occurrence in Palau since the country has a strict law against gun possession with the last gun-related death reported in 1988.
Although air rifles is not illegal in Palau but airguns are usually used to hunt pigeons and birds. “I am shocked and it is unfortunate that things resorted to violence,” Remengesau told a press conference in the wake of the killing in October. Three men – Nicholas Kloulubak, Clifton Kloulubak and Michael Williams were charged with second-degree murder.
A few days after on Oct, 21, three suspected robbers attacked two Bangladeshi employees of a store in Malakal with a hammer. The two employees suffered injuries with one succumbing to death as a result of the beating. Until now, no arrest has been made as the suspects as seen in the surveillance images released to the media are covered in long sleeves, long pants, shoes and mask.
Both crimes were suspected to involve the use of drugs and now the feedback in the community is that Palau which is known, as an underwater haven is no longer safe with the presence of illegal drugs.