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[APIA] Several small island developing states (SIDS) in the Pacific are adopting a simple, low-cost tool to help them steer through the maze of development challenges: bicycles.

“It may look like a piecemeal approach to renewable energy development. But the most disadvantaged communities are not patient at waiting for the very large programmatic, integrated approach that takes a while to materialise,” Solomone Fifita, deputy director of energy for the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), said at the 3rd International Conference on Small Island Developing States held this week  in Apia, Samoa (1-4 September).

While bicycles are a popular mode of transportation in several European and North American cities, they are rarely found in the SIDS, noted Fifita. He hopes to change all that with Bicycles for Capitals (B4C) project, a new partnership between the SPC, the governments of Nauru, Niue and Tuvalu, and the private sector.

The B4C is just one of about 300 new and existing partnerships that were discussed at the four-day conference. Multi-stakeholder partnership dialogues were also held on six topics: sustainable economic development; climate change and disaster risk management; social development, health, youth and women; sustainable energy; oceans and biodiversity; and water and sanitation, food security and waste management.

About 3,500 people from 115 countries attended the largest international conference ever held in the Pacific region. The outcome document produced the Small Island Developing States Accelerated Modalities of Action or the Samoa Pathway, which reiterated that sustainable development of the SIDS can be achieved “only with a broad alliance of people, governments, civil society and the private sector all working together to achieve the future we want for present and future generations”.

B4C represents a step in that direction. The initiative will introduce 500 bicycles in Nauru, Niue and Tuvalu. Posters will be plastered on walls, booklets handed out and DVDs screened to promote the use of bicycles with the help of clubs, workshop centres and businesses. The goal, said Fifita, is to use bicycles as a means to reduce traffic congestion, ease dependency on fossil fuels and encourage an active lifestyle among a group of countries plagued with high rates of diabetes and obesity.

A 2011 study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health found that substituting five per cent of vehicle kilometres with cycling would save approximately 22 million litres of fuel and prevent 116 deaths annually as a result of increased physical activity. That could mean a lot to the small island states of the Pacific.
Link to the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.