Delegates attending the 24th Meeting of the Council of Pacific Arts and Culture currently being held in Honiara were informed of some crucial issues regarding preparations for the eagerly awaited Festival of Pacific Arts in July.

Several SPC divisions attended the meeting and gave presentations on health-related issues, biosecurity and quarantine, water and waste management, and broadcasting.

Dr Lester Ross, Permanent Secretary in the Solomon Island Ministry of Health and Medical Services, gave a presentation on the state of preparedness of health services for the festival on behalf of Dr Yvan Souares of the SPC Public Health Division, who was unable to attend the meeting.

Population movements and high population density are key risk factors associated with the spread of communicable diseases. Honiara is expecting more than 2000 overseas visitors to the festival in July, and an estimated 4,000 local residents are expected to travel to Honiara from the islands and returning to their provinces. Dr Ross named five key health-related sectors that are critically important for maintaining public health, especially for preventing the spread of communicable diseases in urban areas. These sectors need to be addressed before and during the festival. They are: water supply and safety, food supply preparation (and safety), hygiene and sanitation, transport, and security (of health personnel).

The SPC Public Health Division has offered to assist the Festival Organising Committee with technical assistance in strategic health communication, namely production of awareness material on key prevention methods.

The SPC SOPAC Division, represented by Marc Wilson, co-presented with the manager of Solomon Islands Water Authority (SIWA) on water supply and waste management. The presentation focused on the provision of adequate water supply and sanitation for the success of the festival, and emphasised the need to ensure the comfort and convenience of visitors and performers in order to enhance the image and reputation of the festival and to maintain confidence in Solomon Islands for investment, trade and tourism.

The SIWA manager told Council members there was no water crisis in Honiara; rather there is a series of deficiencies in the water supply system which currently affect water availability and its even distribution. He assured the Council that they are committed to providing trouble-free water services to the festival sites and accommodation.

Festival quarantine and biosecurity are critical to prevent entry of invasive pests and diseases, which can affect national biodiversity and food security in Solomon Islands in the long term.

Feroz Khan and Emil Adams of SPC Land Resources Division (LRD) presented information on quarantine and biosecurity issues associated with transportation of island contingents and accompanying cargo to Solomon Islands. The focus is on public education and awareness to prevent the introduction of new pests, as well as putting in place an efficient pest surveillance and monitoring system in and around the festival sites and venues to capture any exotic pests. The livelihoods of the majority of Solomon Islanders depend on subsistence agriculture; hence the importance of preventing the introduction of new pests that will threaten their livelihoods.

LRD will be working with the Solomon Islands Agriculture Quarantine Service to produce awareness materials for distribution to Pacific Island delegations about their responsibility not to bring with them any quarantine risk items, but that if they do, they must declare these to the quarantine authorities on arrival. Council members are aware that most fresh costume materials and food items can be sourced in Solomon Islands, negating any need to bring them. Fruit flies are economic pests and there are four species in Solomon Islands that are a threat to the fresh produce industry. Trapping and baiting in and around festival sites and venues will be intensified to capture any possible new incursions.

TV broadcast of the festival introduces a whole new dimension to bringing festival images and sound to the living rooms and public arenas of Pacific islands. SPC Regional Media Centre (RMC) Director Larry Thomas reported to the Council on the success of the live broadcast of the 2008 festival in American Samoa. A consortium of media organisations, including Fiji Mai TV, TV One NZ, and Maori TV, collaborated with RMC to provide the live broadcast., which was made possible through French Pacific Fund assistance. Nine Pacific Island countries subscribed to and received that live broadcast. For this year's festival, upwards of USD 100, 000 will be required to provide the same service, inclusive of travel, production, satellite uplink and distribution. Council members were made aware of RMC's commitment to providing this service for the festival, if funds can be secured.

The 24th Meeting of the Council of Pacific Arts and Culture is currently being held in Honiara at the Kitano Mendana Hotel with over 50 delegates attending. The meeting is organised by the SPC Human Development Programme and coordinated by Cultural Adviser, Dr Elise Huffer.