A digital map showing the reach of international aid in the Pacific Islands was launched recently in Samoa.
The Lowy Institute Pacific Aid Map collated data from 1300 aid programs from 62 donors across 14 Pacific Islands.
While China’s concessionary loans have become a hot topic of late, the map suggests there are other interesting areas to address.
Jonathan Pryke is one of two lead researchers on the Pacific Aid Map.
He says while China is a significant player in the region, Taiwan, the Asian Development Bank and The World Bank are worth watching as well.
The Asian Development Bank and World Bank invest more aid than China, and have committed to tripling their investments to the Pacific over the next five years.
Furthermore, the map can be used in constructive ways.
“You can look at what were the sectors that are getting the most attention or being the most neglected, or what are the ways in which donors like engaging in the region,” said Jonathan.
“A lot of donors engage in humanitarian support, a lot do scholarships, a lot do infrastructure.”
It has taken 18 months to compile, organize and present over 150 thousand lines of data, he added.
“We’ve spent so much time collecting this data that we’ve only just started the analysis.”
The Pacific Aid Map is a tool designed to improve transparency and accountability in aid, but can also be used for better cooperation between donors.
Using the map, donors and scholars can learn where there are overlaps or gaps in aid and work to repair those issues.
Jonathan said the Lowy Institute does not wish to be custodians of the data and have made it freely available to download in its raw form.
The Institute has been looking intently at aid in the Pacific since 2015, when it released a similar project called the China Pacific Aid Map, which detailed where and how much aid from China was going to Pacific Island nations.
Jonathan said the team received feedback asking for a broader tool, which is why they set out to build the Pacific Aid Map.
He said he hopes the new tool will inject greatly needed nuance into a conversation that has been dominated by China’s aid – perhaps partly in thanks to their previous map.
“In Australia, there is this near hysteria about China, and that has taken up most of the headlines,” said Jonathan.
“This is becoming a defining topic for this generation of Australia, and of foreign policy for this government, and that’s a very hard narrative to push back on.”
Jonathan says he hopes the map is contributing to moderating that hysteria, and is helping people better understand the realities of what’s happening on the ground.