Protecting a Precious Resource
by Elizabeth Caraker

Editor's note: In 1994, Elizabeth was a technical assistant in Kosrae, working with the state tourism agency for three months. In June 1995, she returned to the FSM to work in Pohnpei as team leader for three technical assistants who helped the state develop a land use planning process.

In the middle of a desert, water is precious. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, land is just as precious. The island state of Pohnpei, FSM, possesses a sample of almost every precious land resource endemic to a tropical island. For more than a thousand years, island dwellers have based their lives on careful use of these resources, but growth and western influences have threatened that sustainability.

Traditionally, the king controlled Pohnpei's land and its resources, including marine resources. He would allocate land for people's homes. Houses were built on stable, well-drained soil, close to drinking water sources, fertile soil, and shore access. "Development," therefore, was fairly spread out around the island's lowlands, the region of the island falling between the steep mountain slopes and the mangrove swamps.

The king tasked chiefs with particular responsibilities such as allocating resources, including fish and seafood, breadfruit, yams, and other bounties of the land. Strict planting and harvesting laws restricted these activities to certain times of the year. This type of planned seasonal diet allowed necessary soil nutrient replenishment. Today, as a thousand years ago, harvesting season begins with a ceremonial feast during which community members present the biggest and most prized crops to the king.

In the past, the chief responsible for monitoring marine resources would place taboos on particular sections of reef during a species' breeding season, to restrict harvesting in that area. This ensured the reef's overall health and its ability to sustain precious food sources.

During the past century, Pohnpei has been colonized by a chain of successive western powers who have introduced different types of land uses and disrupted much of the traditional resource management. At the same time, traditional constraints on population growth have diminished. According to the 1994 census, Pohnpei's population grew an average of 1.81 percent annually from 1985 to 1994.

In 1994 the island's population was 32,000; about half the citizens are under age fifteen. Increasing population pressures are manifesting themselves in many ways. Today, fishermen use more intense fishing methods and take more time to harvest modest catches which produce, on average, smaller fish. Families question the purity of their once clean and abundant drinking water. Farmers travel deeper into the upland areas to cultivate crops, while their ancestors' original farmlands have been subdivided and built upon by children and grandchildren.

Infrastructure built by Japan and the United States has been dictating land use and settling patterns since the 1930s. The Japanese paved Pohnpei's first streets in Kolonia, the island's port town and hub. Today, a road circling the island facilitates transportation. With the aid of U.S. Compact funds, a power line also rings the island, and water treatment and sewage facilities serve residents of Kolonia and its surrounding areas.

Many types of development--residential, tourism, and commercial, for instance--followed the road access and power development. Over the past decades, development in Pohnpei proceeded in a haphazard fashion which now creates health and safety concerns. The state has begun to take these concerns seriously by recognizing the value of land use planning.

The island's first attempt to direct a master planning process and establish an appointed state planning commission occurred in 1974, when the Trust Territory government created a code for land use and the Pohnpei District Legislature passed a law calling for adherence to that code. Typically, land control and regulation tend to be highly political, and this became the case with the territory's effort to enforce the code. The attempts failed, and Pohnpeians witnessed another twenty years of accelerated, uncontrolled growth and development before making a second attempt at land use control.

In January 1994, the Pohnpei State Legislature passed the Pohnpei Land Use Planning and Zoning Act. In compliance with that act, Pohnpei's governor appointed a seven-member planning commission to propose a Land Use and Zoning Master Plan for legislative enactment. The governor also directed the Department of Land to appoint a task force to help the planning commission compile the master plan.

According to the 1994 act, the planning commission has five years to draft the master plan, gain local support, and submit the plan to the legislature for approval. To get this project off the ground, the task force requested assistance from the Micronesia and South Pacific Program.

Advanced graduate students from the University of Oregon's Community and Regional Planning Program and Oregon State University's Marine Resources Management Program worked with task force members for six months and produced a draft land use plan addressing the twelve elements mandated by state law. Examples of these elements are conservation, historic preservation, transportation, public services, safety, and housing. The state mandate also requires that the master planning process involve state agencies and local governments. Development of a program to educate and involve citizens is also part of that mandate.

For the last thirty years, Pohnpei's state government has compiled a multitude of plans and laws affecting resources, land, and development. Few were implemented or enforced, and even fewer were consistent with one another. Commencing the master planning process therefore required a reexamination of past research, planning, and legal decisions. The task force identified conflicts and overlaps among state agency jurisdictions, plans, and activities. The agencies and task force addressed these inconsistencies and committed to improving coordination regarding land use activities.

Each of the twelve elements is featured in its own chapter of the master plan. These chapters contain goal statements, the element's background and history, and policies and strategies for fulfilling the element's goal. In addition to the resources of existing plans and laws, the chapters are supported by a demographic profile of the island's population, housing, and public services and by a survey of existing environmental conditions.

Pohnpei's Land Use Master Plan is still in draft form and requires citizen involvement and input to increase its political viability. To be an effective tool for guiding land use and development, the master plan must embody a common vision of Pohnpei's future. That shared vision can be created if citizens understand that land use planning can benefit them and future generations because it is a means of properly managing development and the island's resources.

Many Pohnpeians today believe that their ancestors were natural land use planners. Their "land use plans" addressed many of the same elements called for by the 1994 act. The king's policies ensured that his people's basic human needs were met. With this premise, the task force and planning commission will meet with traditional leaders and communities to discuss the need for land use planning.

The task force will use the draft plan as an outline to generate discussion, feedback, and input into the plan's goals, objectives, and strategies. Past failures have illustrated that the only successfully enforced laws or plans in Pohnpei will be those which are supported and enforced by its citizens.

From January through June 1996, the task force is mobilizing and facilitating these community meetings. The MSPP will continue to support Pohnpei's land use planning process by supplying further technical assistance in June 1996. This project will focus on compiling citizen feedback from community meetings and editing the master plan to incorporate this feedback. The result will be a master plan which reflects a common vision and shared ideas to protect Pohnpei from being developed to death.


Micronesia and South Pacific Program
5244 University of Oregon
Eugene, Oregon 97403 USA
(541) 346-3815; FAX (541) 346-2040

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