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The Contemporary Pacific 13.1 (2001) 278-281



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Book Review

Strategies for Sustainable Development: Experiences from the Pacific


Strategies for Sustainable Development: Experiences from the Pacific, edited by John Overton and Regina Scheyvens. London and New York: Zed Books, 1999 . ISBN cloth, 1 -85649 -641 -4 ; paper, 1 -85649 - 642 -2 ; xiv + 306 pages, tables, maps, bibliography, index. Paper, $27.50.

Pacific Development Sustained: Policy for Pacific Environments, by Colin Hunt. Pacific Policy Paper 32 , National Centre for Development Studies. Canberra: Asia Pacific Press for Australian National University, 1998 . ISBN 07315-2383 -0 ; x + 163 pages, tables, bibliography. A$20.

For readers wishing to cover the widest spectrum of opinion on Pacific Islands economic development, these two books complement each other rather well. Hunt's Pacific Development Sustained applies conventional economic theory to systems that have so far failed to respond to policies generated by such theory, while the authors of Overton and Scheyvens' edited collection of Strategies for Sustainable Development recognize implicitly that this theory is insufficient to deal with the region's growing economic, social, and ecological problems. Both books take the ambiguous notion of "sustainability" as a basic value of the equally ambiguous notion of "development," but while Development Sustained is primarily concerned with sustaining national economies within the existing global system, Strategies emphasizes local social perspectives and experience in dealing with problems ultimately deriving from participation in this system. This approach is characterized by a chapter on "Pacific Islands Livelihoods," the dynamic relationships between communities and their resources, as fundamental to development for the benefit of local people.

Both books accept that conventional economics have failed to provide either sustainable national economies or sustainable livelihoods, but while Development Sustained suggests more rigorous applications of the theory, Strategies challenges it. Unfortunately the introductory chapters of Strategies, intended to contextualize the case studies that make up most of the book, are not always equal to this task. Physical and human geography is well summarized, but the chapter on colonial history neglects the consideration of indigenous political and economic systems that is essential to the "inside-out" perspective intended for the book. When "Culture and Society" follows as a separate chapter, it reinforces the complaint made in the introduction that this subject is "a junior partner in the development coalition." This chapter also seems to depend more on idealism than evidence when it asserts that "sustainable societies" must be equitable and just, considering the longevity of some very inequitable societies in the Pacific Islands, as elsewhere. Other introductory [End Page 278] chapters are also rather disappointing in the conclusions they draw, or fail to draw, from interesting local studies of land tenure becoming more inflexible and inequitable as a result of capitalist development in Kiribati and on the development and dependency fostered by the MIRAB process in the Cook Islands. On the concept of vanua in Fiji, an inevitably speculative description of precolonial ideology is commended as a guide for sustainable development for the future, without addressing the political and economic circumstances that have undermined it in the past.

Chapters on "The Effects of Development," having less ambitious theoretical aims, are on firmer ground. "Logging in Melanesia" covers a major regional issue of resource depletion in terms of damage to subsistence, health, and social relations, as well as swindling and corruption. This makes an interesting contrast to its treatment in Development Sustained, which includes a financial cost-benefit analysis qualified by a notion of ecological sustainability measured by the essentially western value of biodiversity, rather than by the more Pacific Islands value of livelihood. A useful review of "Mining in Papua New Guinea" in Strategies also demonstrates how financial benefits are compromised by damage to the local resource base and social relations, although there is a certain naivety in the conclusion "that the interest of local people be allowed to guide the nature of mining activities." Considering the contradictions between short- and long-term interests, often appreciated only when it is too late, and between the interests of different local groups...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9464
Print ISSN
1043-898X
Pages
pp. 278-281
Launched on MUSE
2001-01-01
Open Access
No
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