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NZ and Pacific Unis in UNESCO “twinning” Project

NZ and Pacific Universities in UNESCO “twinning” Project

New Zealand’s role in guiding sustainable development in Pacific Island nations is to increase through a new alliance between Lincoln University and the Apia branch of Paris-based UNESCO.

In October 2004 Lincoln University presented UNESCO with a plan for leading sustainable development projects. The plan was developed by Lincoln University’s Sustainable Community Development forum, coordinated by Lincoln University researcher Dr Keith Morrison, and based on his work on indigenous knowledge systems. UNESCO responded by supporting the development of a formal arrangement between Lincoln University and the Pacific Island Universities.

The aim of this planned “twinning” of universities in less-developed countries is to develop new approaches to community-based sustainable development and take a hands-on approach to project management.

The “twinning” plan follows a recent visit to Lincoln University by UNESCO’s Pacific Science programme specialist, Apia-based Hans Thulstrup, which included a tour of a whanau-based sustainable farming project on ancestral land near Oxford, North Canterbury.

The Chair of the New Zealand UNESCO Commission, Margaret Austin, says most of the Pacific’s 7500 islands have immediate issues with energy, access to water, waste disposal, health services, education and literacy. “The island nations will be among the first victims of sea level rise and should be at the forefront of research. The importance of indigenous knowledge in sustainable development is recognised internationally, but the establishment of this UNITWIN project is the first real opportunity to translate New Zealand research into targeted programmes that understand local differences.”

Dr Morrison says UNESCO leaders are keen to provide leadership and active research at a grass-roots level. “The need can be summed up as poverty of opportunity. We’ve developing a model that can overcome that poverty of opportunity by simultaneously overcoming economic poverty and environmental degradation. Rural youth in the South Pacific are presently educated to a relatively high level to understand scientific knowledge systems, but in some ways this perpetuates the lack of opportunities because there are few outlets for this type of knowledge and learning.

“We want to find ways to in which the positive aspects of globalization can be used to advantage, such as engaging in local value-added production, international fair trade, global communications and remote education provision. The overall goal is to integrate bottom-up development with the much broader top-down institutional structures existing at regional, national and global levels.”

“We’re really concerned with how these skills are passed on from generation to generation,” says Dr Morrison. “Indigenous knowledge is a key to sustainable development, but paradoxically it requires access to western knowledge systems as well. We will be looking at how we can do that most effectively.”

The outcomes of the project include a decision-support system and associated software, development of village infrastructure to enable training for women and young people, and a series of sustainable development projects that will serve as examples of how to overcome a poverty of opportunities. The project will also produce educational manuals on social infrastructure and databases on added-value and import-substitution development projects. Lincoln University’s Sustainable Community Development Forum includes specialists in environmental management, ecology, Maori development, agriculture and the social sciences. The link with UNESCO aims to strengthen the performance of Pacific aid projects through improved targeting and co-ordination and more effective use of local authority systems.

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