PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT
Pacific Islands Development Program/East-West Center
VANUATU: DEFINING ‘THE HAPPIEST COUNTRY IN THE WORLD’
PORT VILA, Vanuatu (Vanuatu Daily Post, Jan. 10, 2011) – Vanuatu has been internationally recognized as the Happiest Country in the World because of it being able to grow most of its own food, construct its family houses and collect household water, and all free of charge.
But there are other important aspects. People here work well together, assisting in food cultivation, house building and water reticulation, because Melanesian society is family and community-oriented.
And the one-ness of this society is such that each grouping has its own culture and often own language.
This is quite rare in the second decade of the 21st Century. And life is good, and probably a whole lot better for those who often go to the garden rather than the factory or office. Life would seem rather bleak for those in China who walk or run to factory work every day, breathing the diesel fumes of choked alleyways, only to produce a required number of thousands of plastic Barbie dolls in a long, dull working day. And those going to the yam garden can often take a spell by diving into the saltwater to try and catch a little protein for supper. And have fun, too and a sleep on a hot day.
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been one of the most used means of defining how well off a country is. China has been way up there, and Vanuatu very much nears the bottom of the list.
This is where the Happiest Country index comes in. And indices are trying to find a way of qualifying and quantifying with an index to well being the manifold benefits available to Melanesians, for Vanuatu and the whole region.
This is being spearheaded this week in Whakatane, New Zealand with the help of Minister for Ni-Vanuatu Business, Ralph Regenvanu, on behalf of the Malvatumauri, the Vanuatu National Cultural Council, the Vanuatu National Statistics Office, the Christensen Fund, the Melanesian Spearhead Group Secretariat and the South Pacific Commission.
Minister Regenvanu will be presenting the meeting with information about the new initiative currently being implemented by the National Statistics Office to develop "alternative indicators of well-being" for the Melanesian context.
Regenvanu’s traveling to the meeting is being sponsored by non-Vanuatu government sources and his trip does not represent any expense to the Vanuatu Government.
Organizers of the "Sharing Power" meeting say:
"The almost universal use of GDP-based indicators to measure progress has helped justify policies based on rapid material progress at the expense of more holistic criterion. Because it is a crude measure of only the cash value of activities or production, GDP is heavily biased towards increased production and consumption regardless of the necessity or desirability of such outputs. Policies developed with regard only to increasing per-capita GDP can have negative, and potentially disastrous, impacts on other factors contributing to life quality."
Western, home-schooled economists will remember the efforts of the 20th Century planners which went in to trying to put a value on the work of that newly emerged creature back then, the housewife: she who would cook and sew and clean for no payment while daddy was out "making money". Well, a similar revision process is being undertaken and hoping to go much further with the present initiative for Melanesia to statistically record indicators which will help future planners and make an impression on assistance partners. Measures for evaluating well being are a new concept, and they ratchet up the whole process of scientific evaluation of the worth of a society.
"In 2006, the UK-based New Economics Foundation published "The Happy Planet Index: An index of human well-being and environmental impact" in which countries were ranked in relation to three indicators of well-being: life satisfaction, life expectancy, and ecological footprint."
These three indicators were chosen by the Foundation to represent the ecological efficiency of delivering human well-being within the constraints of equitable and responsible resource consumption. The report declared Vanuatu to be the "happiest country in the world."
The "Happiest Country" title for Vanuatu has already significantly assisted the tourism industry here. Vanuatu won the title in 2006 and has got it back again after losing it for a year.
"Alternative Indicators for Well Being" got underway in Vanuatu back in 2010 with a meeting which was held here. The New Zealand discussions will take the project further and minister Regenvanu will deliver a paper on what has been achieved here recently.
He is ideally placed to do so because of his long-time leadership in the field of cultural heritage and cultural policy, not only in Vanuatu but in the region, and with his familiarity with the many cultures of Vanuatu.
His recognition of the importance of the best qualities of life in Vanuatu will be invaluable.
The "Sharing Power" Whakatane Conference brings together scientists, economists, indigenous leaders, environmentalists, academics, policy makers in national governments and international agencies, and many others who care about the quality of heritage this generation passes on to future generations.
The Conference also focuses on the need for policy and decision makers in Governments and Corporations to accommodate a greater level of inclusion of indigenous peoples and all citizens, in national and international policies on the management and governance of bio-cultural resources, and advocates the rights of mother earth.
Vanuatu Daily Post: http://www.vanuatudaily.com
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