MicSem Publications

Sustainable Human Development in the Federated States of Micronesia

by Francis X. Hezel, SJ, with Edwin Q.P. Petteys and Deborah L. Chang

1997 Economics

This report was initiated by UNDP, since this organization intended to sponsor a situation analysis on the Federated States of Micronesia. The report was, in theory at least, to reflect close collaboration between UNDP and the government of FSM in producing this work. In fact, several FSM citizens were approached about writing this report, but all declined. The UNDP representative then asked the principal author to consider undertaking the project. He agreed to do so on condition that two other expatriates be permitted to assist him in the undertaking.

This report, then, was written by three expatriates with long involvement in Micronesia. The principal author, Francis X. Hezel, is a Jesuit priest who has spent over 30 years in the islands, much of that time studying social change, past and present, in its various manifestations. Assisting him were Edwin Petteys and Debbie Chang, a married couple living in Hawaii but with a long association with the islands. Ed Petteys, is a state forester who has frequently visited the islands as a consultant and trainer; in fact, he was seconded to Pohnpei in the mid-1980s and lived on that island for a year.

The report was circulated in draft form to several persons, only one of whom offered any comments on the text. This report, then, is more the product of the team of writers than was thought desirable. It was written according to the norms set out by UNDP, however, and remains UNDP's analysis of the situation in FSM.

Sustainable Human Development

To further economic development has been the aim of many reports and studies done on Micronesia. Despite the flurry of activity that sometimes followed these reports, the results have usually fallen far short of what was envisioned. At times it is the lack of resources, or the distance from foreign markets, or the shortage of trained workers that is responsible for these failures. But there are other, perhaps more important factors that doom these projects. Many a frustrated expatriate advisor has departed FSM with the impression that the passionate commitment to development is missing in the the nation's people. The political will to transform policy into practice is absent. The fire in the belly is just not there-at least not yet.

It would be a wonder if it were, considering the total change in values and attitudes that is demanded of the development-minded Micronesian. The belief system and values that one imbibes in a traditional island society are a significant obstacle to the value system that underpins Western-style economic development. The length of the leap from subsistence lifestyle to a full cash economy should not be underestimated.

Yet sustainable human development is, by definition, much more than economic development. It looks not just to the generation of income for the nation and the individual, but to improving the overall quality of life for everyone in the country. The aim of sustainable human development, while including economic productivity, must always look beyond economic viability of the nation as a final goal. It looks to an equitable distribution of income among the population, involvement of all in the planning process, conservation of the nation's resource base, and ultimately to an enriched human life for all segments of the population. In a word, sustainable human development wants it all.

Sustainable human development is a single broad concept that embraces many different concerns. Too many, some argue. The concept works like a stack of filters, one on top of the other, each blocking certain rays of light that are judged harmful, so that the end result is darkness. In attempting to have it all, with safeguards carefully positioned to protect people from any flaw, sustainable human development leaves us with nothing.

Perhaps a fairer and more positive assessment of the value of the concept is that it helps direct our attention to legitimate human concerns that must be raised at some point in the development process. If it must do so all in a single bundle, this is certainly better than not doing it at all.

Sustainable human development, as it is used in this report, has four essential components:

  • It aims to increase productivity, which always implies social change, but it is firmly anchored in the society's past and respects its cultural values.
  • It is environmentally sound and does no permanent damage to the ecosystem, nor does it squander scarce resources.
  • It aims at improving the overall quality of life, not just increasing the Gross Domestic Product.
  • It is people-centered: both participatory (involving people in the decision making process) and empowering (bestowing confidence in their own ability).

Sustainable human development is especially pertinent to nations like the FSM in that it offers a broader and more realistic set of criteria for development than merely increase of wealth. Furhermore, in our modified version of the concept at least, sustainable human development also tries to take into account the cultural milieu of the people.

Aims of This Report

This report could end up, like so many similar reports, on the shelves of government offices never to be consulted again. It could be an academic exercise, as other documents on development have been. Our sincere hope is that this will not happen, although we view this report more as an educational tool than a planning document. It is the kind of work one might consult when looking for a brief overview of FSM and its socio-economic trends, but situated in a cultural context. We have tried to make the cultural background more than a formality, offering as much as might be needed to understand the particular issues raised, given the space limitations imposed.

The authors were instructed to prepare a situation analysis on sustainable human development in the FSM, with emphasis on certain key issues identified by the United Nations Development Program. Although the project was undertaken with the intention of following the guidelines offered, some modifications were found to be necessary as our work on the analysis proceeded. The norm we used in preparing this situational report was to focus principally on the issues that appeared to be most relevant to FSM at this particular stage in its socio-economic development. Hence, some of the topics suggested to us may have been relegated to a secondary status, while other, new issues have been highlighted in some cases.

The purpose of this report, in keeping with its focus on sustainable human development, is to stress the importance of integrating all its various components–economic, ecological, sociocultural, and political–in any future development planning. At the same time, this report is intended to be a reminder that empowerment of people implies that they be given the opportunity to share in the planning process at every level. Otherwise, they will not be in a position to make the choices that determine their future.

The aims of this report are these:

  • To shed light on the sociocultural context of present-day Micronesia, including the social impact of past change and an appreciation of key social issues today, in order to provide a fuller understanding of how the culture may impact on development planning.
  • To identify the key issues related to sustainable human development in the FSM; and to suggest, when appropriate, basic strategies for dealing with these issues.
  • To assist the people of FSM in weighing the social and economic costs implied in any development program.

The methodology employed by the authors was to review as much of the abundant written materials on FSM development as time would allow. This material included planning documents and reports; historical studies; health and educational data; economic analyses done by international organizations such as the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund; anthropological articles and books; and unpublished reports on all aspects of the national life. Fortunately, the resources of the Micronesian Seminar collection afforded us a wealth of material to draw from. We also had access to informed public officials, planners and other individuals who helped us critique and in some cases fill in the gaps in our information. These persons were especially helpful in offering anecdotal information that could be incorporated into case studies and which would put a more human face on development issues.

Although we are confident that the development issues we have highlighted in this report are among the key ones, we make no claims to a comprehensive treatment of these issues nor to having identified every single major issue. Moreover, we discovered, as many have before us, that reliable statistical data is often difficult to obtain in FSM. The reader should be warned that the tables in this report are only as accurate as the data on which we have drawn.


It is clear from reviewing the previous work done on FSM that there is no shortage of good analyses and sound development proposals for the nation. Solid plans abound. If anything is lacking, it is the commitment to implement them. In view of the rapid approach of the termination of the Compact of Free Association and the end of US subsidies, the time has come to act.

Often it happens that some of the greatest obstacles to development are the cultural attitudes and values of the people themselves. This could very well be true of Micronesia also. Nonetheless, the cultural values and attitudes that seem to pose an obstacle to development should be taken seriously and treated with the respect they merit. They are not just a barrier to be overcome, but a cultural repertoire that has served the people of the islands well for centuries. In any case, they represent a factor that is often not seriously considered in most development planning. We have tried to do so in this report.

We acknowledge that all genuine development must be a product of people's choices. Genuine development cannot be imposed; it must spring from the plans and convictions of the people. This is not just a moral aphorism, but a pragmatic consideration. Unless people truly subscribe to a development policy, they will find ways to sabotage it, through inaction if not by stronger measures.

In setting the agenda for development, the authors have tried to avoid priorities that are more reflective of a First World agenda than of FSM's. The human rights framework, although widely accepted in many developed countries, still does not speak convincingly to many people in Micronesia (see Appendix). Vulnerability should be defined as seems appropriate in these islands, even if the most vulnerable groups in the population differ greatly from what might be expected in other places. Likewise, our approach to women and children, while open to a modern redefinition of their rights and roles, should be governed by the sociocultural realities in Micronesia rather than a First World perspective.

Finally, we should not attempt to define specific strategies to resolve the development issues that are identified. Indeed, identifying these key issues is already a half step toward resolving them. Much of the crucial work of development consists in helping to build community awareness of these issues. This always constitutes the best strategy for development and is also an act of confidence in people's ability to resolve the issues that affect their lives. Hence, we can raise the issues, but we cannot offer a sure method of resolving them.

CHAPTER 1: Physical and Natural Resources

The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) comprises the most diverse part of greater Micronesia and consists of 640 islands that span a distance of nearly 2,800 km (1,740 miles) in the Western Pacific. The islands exhibit a great deal of variability, consisting of four basic typ1es: high volcanic and basaltic islands, low atoll associated coral islands, raised coral islands, and low non-atoll coral islands. The population of 105,506 is found on 125 inhabited islands.

Table 1. 1 Total Area of Land and Lagoons by State, 1992 (Area in Square Kilometers)

Type Chuuk Kosrae Pohnpei Yap Total
Dry Land:  
Main Island(s) 100 112 334 100 646
Outer Island(s) 27 0 8 19 54
Total Land 127 112 342 119 700
Main Island(s) 2,129 0 178 26 2333
Outer Island(s) 3,013 0 591 1,023 4627
Total Lagoons 5142 0 770 1049 6961
Total Area 5269 112 1112 1168 7661

Source: OPS Information Handbook, 1992

The climate is tropical and oceanic. Temperatures are relatively uniform , ranging from 24º – 30º C with humidities over 80 percent. Rainfall varies widely from year to year, but is generally high, varying from 300 cm per year in drier areas to over 1000 cm per year in the mountainous interior of Pohnpei. On most islands, especially in the West, there are pronounced wet and dry seasons in some years.

Gentle northeast trade winds blow from November to May, with the remainder of the year under the influence of the doldrums. The major typhoon tracks of the Western Pacific lie north and west of the FSM, but the region is subject to occasional typhoons.

Land has historically been the dominant resource of a family and holds a preeminent position in the cultural, political, and economic environment. Land ownership has been traditionally reserved for inheritance within a family or lineage, and many of the land parcels in the FSM continue to have extended family or communal authority over use and alienation rights. Most lands in each state are occupied by private land holders and are influenced by customary or traditional land tenure and land use systems (Perin, 1996).

Previous Spanish, German and Japanese administrations claimed as public domain all lands that were not in actual use by inhabitants. The titles to these lands claimed by previous foreign administrations were considered to be assumed by the U.S. Administration, which, in turn, adopted a policy of returning the lands to individual or lineage ownership. Present public lands are both those lands retained in the public interest, and those lands not yet returned.

Table 1. 2 Land Tenure by State, 1996 (Area in Square Kilometers)

Type Chuuk Kosrae Pohnpei Yap Total
Private Land 127 34 231 117 509
Public Land 1 75 115 2 193
Total 128 109 346 119 702

Source: Economic Use of Land in the FSM, 1996

Land-based Resources

Table 1.3 Areas of High Islands by Land Type, 1986 (Area in Square Kilometers)

Land Type Chuuk* Kosrae Pohnpei Yap Total
Upland Forest 7 49 125 26 207
Mangrove Forest 3 16 55 12 86
Other Forest 0 4 16 2 22
Secondary Veg. 3 13 18 2 39
Agroforest 24 28 119 25 196
Marsh/Grass 4 0 17 23 44
Cropland 0 0 1 0 1
Urban 1 1 2 3 8
Other 0 1 1 1 3
Total 42 112 354 94 606

Source: Falanruw, 1987

Note: Chuuk information is not complete; it includes only the islands of Weno, Fefan, Tonoas, and Eten.

There are perennial streams only on Kosrae and Pohnpei, despite high average annual rainfalls of 300 cm to over 1000 cm. Towns on several of the high islands have water delivery systems fed by streams or wells, but the majority of the population relies on roof catchments supplemented by fresh and brackish groundwater springs and wells. Atolls and some coastal areas on the high islands get their water by catchments and by tapping into underground lenses of fresh or brackish water.

High islands have had soils surveys conducted by the USDA Natural Resources and Conservation Service. In general, soils run the full range from basaltic parent material to highly weathered volcanic soils to sand and coral rubble.

The coralline soils of most atolls are shallow, porous, and of marginal fertility, which may be enriched by using mulch or plant debris. The high islands have very complex soils, derived from basaltic lavas in the Eastern Carolines, grading to lighter granitic material in the Western Carolines.

The atolls offer a limited number and variety of plants, due to their poorer soils, often brackish ground water, and salt spray. The high islands are characterized by a greater number of plant varieties, ranging from strand and coastal plant complexes and extensive mangrove forests to the highly developed "cloud" forests in the uplands of Pohnpei.

All states except Chuuk have large forested areas, much of it secondary. The forests on the larger islands protect watersheds and prevent erosion. Mangrove areas filter run-off sediment and serve as nurseries for many marine species.

Currently, there is limited use of timber, with only one small sawmill operating on Pohnpei. The value of forest land, then, lies in its ability to support agroforestry activities and for its ecological and environmental roles, rather than as a source of commercial timber. Commercial timber operations are discouraged, according to the Second FSM National Development Plan.

No significant minerals have been identified in the FSM. Deep ocean deposits of manganese and cobalt have been identified but not assessed. There was some historical phosphate mining on several of the outer islands of Yap.

The only native terrestrial mammals are bat species. In addition, there are four species of introduced rodents and, on Pohnpei, the Sambar deer. There are a variety of domestic animals such as cats, dogs, pigs, goats, water buffalo, and cattle. Most have remained in the domestic state, though pigs, goats, and deer have become feral.

The greatest proportion of the FSM's terrestrial vertebrates are birds. They include a number of endemic species, two of which are extinct. Three more are considered endangered, and four threatened.

Marine Resources

The marine environment is of great importance to the people of the FSM. It serves as a principal source of subsistence, recreation, and commerce, and much Micronesian culture revolves around it. More than other natural resources, it is central to future economic prospects for the FSM. The FSM claims an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that totals over 2.5 million square kilometers.

Offshore tuna is the primary fishery resource. While the full extent of the resource has not yet been fully assessed, this resource offers great potential for further exploitation. Present annual fish catches are estimated at over 150,000 tons (NEMS, 1993). Current estimates indicate that this harvest is within sustainable limits.

Inshore reef resources are largely consumed locally and are an essential source of nutrition in the traditional Micronesian diet. Estimates of harvest vary widely ranging from 1,000 to 5,000 tons annually. There is some export activity, but it is not quantified. Assessments indicate that fish populations in reefs close to the larger, more urbanized areas are depleted. In some areas, reef destruction from over fishing and dynamiting is extensive.

Natural populations of the clams as well as those of other shellfish are declining, and are almost completely gone from certain areas. Trochus, a conical shellfish, has been an important contributor to local economies. To date, the only marine sanctuary areas established are trochus sanctuaries at the state level.

Threats and Disasters

While the major typhoon tracks lie to the north and west of the Carolines, they pose a serious threat, particularly to the western end of the nation. They generally form between Pohnpei and Chuuk, and move northwest, increasing in intensity. Recent years have seen three typhoons hit Chuuk, one strike Pohnpei, and at least one hit Yap. A small shift in climatic patterns could increase the incidence of typhoons on Yap.

Severe droughts occasionally occur. Often associated with El Nino years, droughts have a profound effect on the well-being of FSM's population. Not only are human water supplies compromised, but agricultural activity is also affected. The drying of vegetation increases the potential for uncontrolled wildfires. During the 1983 drought, wildfires burned over an estimated 15 percent of the land area of Pohnpei.

Sea Level Rising
Current projections are that sea levels may rise globally by between 10 to 30 cm before 2030. If this happens, habitation of low coral islands in particular may be compromised, not only because of direct effects such as over-topping, but because of the destruction of fresh water lenses, increased salt spray, and salt water intrusion into cropped areas. Other impacts may be weather pattern changes, increased coastal erosion, reduction of mangrove habitats, and increased vulnerability to coastal developments and historic/cultural sites (Hay, 1994).

Physical Resources and SHD

It is the FSM's natural resources that hold the potential for SHD. However, they are limited and precious, integral to ecosystems and cultures, making it imperative that they be used properly. Needed are the proper inventorying, monitoring, planning, management, and regulatory environments to ensure that the use of resources is done in a sustainable way, and not over-exploited in the interest of immediate, short-term gains. This is difficult, given the transitional fiscal situation within the country, and the growing sense of urgency to generate revenue.

CHAPTER 2: The People and Their Cultures

The four states that make up the FSM have their own distinctive cultural traditions and languages. Some have more than one: Yap's outer islands, containing almost half the state's population, are far more similar in culture and language to Chuuk than they are to the high islands of Yap; and two of the outliers of Pohnpei are Polynesian in speech and custom.


The heart of this state is an atoll containing a number of rather small high islands. The Chuuk lagoon, in turn, is surrounded by several atolls to the north, west and south. Individual islands in the lagoon and even in the atolls were seldom unified under a single chief.

Even today the main social unit is the lineage group, descended from a woman and residing together on one or more parcels of land. The lineage group is usually broken down into two or three households. It retains the meeting house, or uut, that was originally the gathering place and living quarters for the unmarried males of the extended family. The symbol of unity in the lineage was once the cookhouse, where food was prepared for the entire extended family group. Although cookhouses can still be found in many places today, they are mostly used to prepare food for the household rather than the extended family.

In contrast to most other parts of Micronesia, women in Chuuk do offshore fishing while men work in the taro patches and pick breadfruit. Although food is commonly exchanged with other relatives, there is none of the competitive food exchanges that are still found in Pohnpei and some of the other islands of Micronesia. As in Kosrae, the church has assumed a large place in everyday life and people spend much time and energy in church activities. This may be partly due to the fact that Chuuk lacks the social rituals that other islands enjoy.


The high island of Pohnpei is regarded as the garden island of Micronesia. The fertile soil grows a wide variety of food crops, including kava (called sakau) and yams. Both of these are customarily offered at funerals, feasts and other ritual gatherings. Together with pigs, kava and yams play a key role in the prestige economy of Pohnpei. In contrast to Chuuk and the coral atolls in western Micronesia with their simple social and political systems, Pohnpei has all the complexity of a Polynesian island.

Most adult male Pohnpeians receive a formal title and are always referred to by this title. Men who live in the village spend much of their time tending their yams and sakau, for every Pohnpeian male is expected to have these. Pohnpeians tend to be secretive about their cultivation of these plants, so Pohnpeian homesteads are often scattered over the countryside and rather distant from one another.

Although the society is organized into lineages descended from the mother's side, children inherit their land from their father and married couples usually reside on the husband's family estate. Several married brothers will often live with their families on one large piece of land. Their father would traditionally have been the head of the family group and made all decisions affecting the group, but this is changing today.

While the social organization in the outer islands resembles Pohnpei to some extent, these atolls are without much of the formality of Pohnpei's feasting rituals and prestige economy.


Kosrae is a single high island with a cultural tradition that was probably very similar to Pohnpei. During the 19th century, however, Kosrae suffered a drastic loss of population over a 40-year period that left the island with only 300 people by the end of the century. This depopulation, brought on by Western diseases, was far more severe than anything suffered by other islands in the region. As a consequence, many of the traditional institutions collapsed. They were replaced by social and political structures introduced by the American Protestant missionaries then working on the island (Hezel, 1983). The old title system, which was probably much like Pohnpei's, is long dead. Today rank and prestige are acquired through church office or a high position in the government.

Despite these changes, echoes of the traditional culture survive in new forms. Married couples usually live on the husband's land as part of a larger kin group. Many Kosraeans still support themselves by cultivating breadfruit and taro and by fishing. Villages are broken down into two or three sub-groups that vie with one another in carrying out village tasks. Men and women have their own parallel associations in the village, as they do in much of Micronesia (Alkire, 1977).


This westernmost state in the FSM has a reputation for being the most traditional of all the island groups in Micronesia. Until recently men walked around town wearing loincloths while women dressed in grass skirts. Although most have now adopted western clothing, Yapese retain a deep respect for their cultural ways. Women work in the taro patches to produce the staple item on the diet, while men fish.

The villages of Yap are tightly organized and ranked according to a caste system, with each village having its recognized status. The village is an important focal point of one's identity. Within the village parcels of land are named and ranked. The Yapese claim that people receive their name from the land rather than the other way around. All houses were traditionally built on stone platforms, and each village had its own old men's meeting house and young men's clubhouse. A married couple will usually take up residence on the man's estate along with the man's father and possibly some of his brothers.

Besides this patrilineal group, which is the dominant one, Yapese maintain an interest in their matrilineage. It is well understood that if someone for any reason should have a falling out with his father's lineage, he would usually be welcomed by his mother's relatives.

The coral atolls that make up much of Yap State are populated by a people who bear very little cultural affinity to Yapese. These Outer Islanders, as they are called, speak a language and practice customs that are much more similar to Chuuk than to Yap. Their way of life is simple; they subsist on fish and taro or breadfruit, wear their traditional dress (loincloth and lavalava), and carry on the long distance canoe voyages for which their islands were famous.

Notwithstanding their distinctive features, the cultures that make up the FSM share many common traditional values and institutions. This is not surprising since these cultures have a common ancestry that can be traced back to the first settlement of the islands. The cultures and languages of the eastern islands (ie, all except Yap proper) are especially close for they form part of what is known as the Nuclear Micronesian cluster. They also hold the common set of attitudes and values shared by all Pacific Islanders living a subsistence lifestyle, such as sharing and reciprocity.

Subsistence Mode of Life

A great majority of the people in FSM lead what can be called a subsistence or semi-subsistence mode of life. By this we mean that they produce most of what they need to feed themselves from the land and sea and so are able to live without full-time salaried employment. The cash they need to buy clothes and other imported items is usually obtained by occasional paid labor or through incidental cash cropping or sale of fish. Because of the high productivity of Pacific islands, families can produce all they need in an estimated three or four hours of male labor a day (Fisk, 1982). Social relationships are maintained through the process of subsistence production and exchange within the family and community and participation in the elaborate and time-consuming social rituals, including funerals and village feasts, that are prescribed in many places. The social recognition and enhanced prestige that individuals gain from this participation is seen as adequate repayment for the time and energy invested (Hezel 1992).

The subsistence way of life is as much a mindset as a mode of production. It implies a no-rush approach to life with a disdain for long hours of work day after day since the production of surplus food, apart from those relatively few times that the community is preparing for a major event, is useless anyway. It implies a leisurely cultivation of social relationships, which are regarded as the most important value in island life. In such a lifestyle, people can afford to take time out to let the land and sea resources regenerate, for their needs are relatively simple and can be easily satisfied without putting pressure on valuable resources. A form of natural conservation is an integral part of the lifestyle of those who live a subsistence mode of life.

Although these points are obvious enough to anyone familiar with the Pacific, there is a value in stating them here at the outset of this report since these attitudes are contrary to those required for rapid economic development. Creation of a surplus, accumulation of goods, intense and regular labor, and punctuality, while essential to development, are foreign to a subsistence mindset.


The traditional attitude toward land, one that is still commonly held by Micronesians, is that "land is our strength, our life, our hope for the future." Land was traditionally understood to include the offshore flats and reef or fishing areas. It was the sole source of a family's livelihood in a day when people depended on it for food, housing materials, medicine and virtually everything else. Without it they would not have survived. People parted with land as unwillingly as they would surrender an arm or a leg.

Land has always been "both life and a way of life" for Micronesians (Alkire, 1977: 88). The family or descent group was related to the land in an almost mystical fashion. Land could never be merely a possession, much less a saleable commodity. It provided the kin group not only with its livelihood, but with its identity as well. Sometimes, as we have seen in the case of Yap, people and groups took their very names from the land parcels with which they were associated. Just as people sprang from the land, they were returned to their family estate at burial. Because of the close interrelationship between kin groups and land, kin systems and land tenure patterns were shaped to fit one another snugly.

Although the value of land in the eyes of Micronesians persists today, the intimate relationship between family and land has been altered to some extent. Land has assumed great economic value with the shift from subsistence to money-based economies. Increasingly, it is coming to be regarded as a negotiable commodity that can be bartered to situate a family or an individual in the modern economic system. Outright sale of land to foreign parties is forbidden by the FSM Constitution, but 50-year leases, the maximum allowable in the FSM, are often an attractive inducement to part with land. Sale of land to other Micronesians, a rarity in former times, is frequently recorded today.

Land disputes have become a common source of friction within the extended family, especially when the senior member of a lineage sells land without the consent of the others in his kin group. To guard against this, many lineages have filed official documents with their state land office attesting that any land transfer without the signatures of all members of the lineage should be regarded as void.

The search for jobs has motivated people to leave their ancestral lands to live in towns. They sometimes move in with relatives or end up squatting on government land.

The Family

The traditional Micronesian family everywhere included more than the parents and their natural children. The family consisted of the group living and working together on lineage land, which usually included collateral kin such as aunts and uncles and their children. It usually embraced three or sometimes even four generations. A typical residential group in Chuuk or Pohnpei might have numbered as many as 30 or 40 people. Besides this residential group, there were often lineage members living on other pieces of land who retained their close ties with the lineage.

Formerly, these relatives–all of whom were referred to as "mothers," "fathers," "siblings," or "children"–shared in the work of providing for the welfare of the extended family. They took their turns preparing food for the lineage group at a common hearth, and they formed a labor pool that the lineage head could draw on as necessary to cultivate and harvest food, put up buildings, and perform the many other tasks that had to be done. Even when lineage members slept in separate houses with their wives and children, their lives centered around the hearth and meeting house, the symbols of the lineage unity.

Just as they contributed to the material welfare of the lineage as a single productive unit, all members of the extended family cooperated in the vital task of child rearing. The natural father retained considerable direct authority over his children when they were young, but as the children grew to adolescence they were subject to the general supervision of all senior members of the extended family. Many older people had a hand in raising a young member of the lineage. They taught him the skills and lore he had to know to function in his broad family; they counseled and comforted him and disciplined him when necessary; they approved decisions on whether he would go off to school or whom he would marry. The parental authority role, like the support role, was shared by a number of older relatives.

The traditional family system was characterized by a system of delicate balances that Micronesians compared to their outrigger canoe. The matrilineal side–or the hull of the canoe, in this comparison–generally had the dominant claim on each young person. These claims were nearly always represented by the maternal uncle, whose relationship with his nephew and lineage mate was important enough to warrant a special kinship term. The maternal uncles were on hand to help socialize the young person and to do all that was needed to incorporate him fully into the lineage.

The counterweight to the matrilineage was the father's lineage, which was likened to the outrigger on the canoe. This second group was represented chiefly by the young person's father, although others in this kin group also exercised some measure of authority over the young person. The roles of the father and maternal uncle were complementary; if the maternal uncle was a strong authority figure, the father might be kinder and gentler to his son. In this way, the traditional family afforded a balanced support system, with built-in checks against excesses, for the raising of children.

In many parts of Micronesia a young man or woman's relationship with their father's lineage may have been dependent on whether they had been well-behaved and considerate. If their father's family judged them to be deficient in this respect, they could be disinherited and thrown off the family estate. With the mother's lineage it was a different story. No matter how badly a young person acted or what ingratitude he had shown, his matrilineage might serve as a safety net. His matrilineage was his true home, to which he might return when all other doors were closed to him (Hezel, 1989b).

Men and Women's Roles

In all Micronesian societies, and probably everywhere in the Pacific, there was a sharp distinction between the roles of males and females. Women were expected to do the weaving and plaiting, care for the children and perform the house holding chores, while men did the deep-sea fishing, built the houses and canoes, and conducted warfare. Work was divided a little differently from one island to another, but men's and women's roles were always complementary, with some tasks clearly assigned to women and others to men.

Even when working on projects involving the entire community, such as thatching the roof of a meeting house, men and women performed different parts of the work. To prepare for the project, the men made the rope from coconut fiber, while the women plaited the thatch segments used for the roof. When the community assembled to replace the roof, the men would climb up to haul down the old roof and position the new pieces of thatch. The women, meanwhile, would prepare the food.

On something as commonplace as preparation of breadfruit in Chuuk, the principle of division of labor by gender is still rigorously employed. The men pick the breadfruit and carry it to the cookhouse, where the women scrape off the skin, cut it up into pieces and cook it. When the breadfruit is cooked, the men pound it and shape it into loaves, leaving it to the women to wrap the loaves in banana leaves and store them. Woman's work, then, is clearly distinguished from men's work in every detail of joint work projects.

Just as labor was clearly split by gender, so were other roles in traditional Micronesian societies. Men and women enjoyed their own respective spheres of influence. In many islands women were looked upon as the caretakers of the land and they exercised a large measure of control over the allocation of land use rights within or outside of the family. Men, on the other hand, were the spokesmen for the family and the village; they held the titles and the chieftainships.

Although appearances can easily mislead one into believing that the function of men was to rule while that of women was to obey, this was certainly not the case in Micronesia. While women were barred from speaking in public and were expected to avoid center stage positions, they were often the real movers behind the scenes when it came to allocating resources and even initiating political intrigues.

In gender relations, as in other aspects of traditional life, there was a strong element of reciprocity. Just as women were required to show certain kinds of deference to men, especially to male relatives, men were also required to practice respect behavior towards women. Men were not only prohibited from using certain kinds of language in the presence of women, but they were expected to withdraw from the presence of close female kin in keeping with the avoidance behavior that was so common in island societies.

What we would today call women's rights, limited as they may have been, were well protected in traditional society. These rights, to be sure, fell considerably short of today's modern standards, for women might be slapped or hit by their husbands. Even so, the woman's family kept a close watch over her and was poised to intervene on her behalf in case of excess. In such an event they might retaliate against her husband by beating him up or even remove the woman from her husband and so terminate her marriage. Women could expect to be protected by their kinfolk even after they married and bore children. Women in traditional Micronesian societies surely did not enjoy equality with men, but they were not without a large measure of security and even power in those societies (Hezel, 1987).

Social Change under a Cash Economy

Since the early 1960s Micronesia has experienced a cultural upheaval due to the cumulative impact of the modernization program embarked upon by the US which then administered the islands as its Trust Territory. This program began under the Kennedy Administration with a build up of the education and health services system. Americans were recruited in great numbers to teach in the new schools and Peace Corps volunteers were introduced to the islands in 1966. Alcohol was legalized for islanders in 1960, after which drinking became a favorite recreation of young men. The communication systems were modernized to include government-run radio stations and, much later, cable television.

Underlying these changes and dwarfing their cumulative impact upon the cultures of Micronesia was the gradual monetization of the island economies. In the immediate postwar years and through the 1950s most Micronesians lived as they always had. They ate breadfruit, taro and fish and built their houses of local materials; whatever small cash income they might have had was used to purchase clothing, cigarettes, rice, kerosene and other small items.

This pattern began to change during the 1960's as the US subsidies to its Trust Territory spiraled upward, from $6 million in 1962 to $60 million a year by the end of the decade. With a much higher level of funding came new wage employment opportunities for thousands of Micronesians. In 1962 there were 3,000 Trust Territory citizens with full-time employment; by 1965 the number had doubled, and by 1974 it had doubled again to 12,000. As of 1977, when limited self-government was granted to the islands, there were over 18,000 Micronesians working for cash in Palau, the Marshalls and what would soon become the FSM (Hezel, 1988).

Meanwhile, Micronesians' total annual earnings skyrocketed from $2.3 million in 1962 to about $42 million by 1977. The annual per capita income in 1962 was about $60; fifteen years later it stood at more than $400. Even with adjustments for inflation and an annual population increase of more than three percent a year, the average income was three times greater than it had been in 1962 (Hezel, 1989b). For the first time in the history of the islands the cash inflow had reached a level sufficient to propel Micronesia into a monetized economy. Money could supplant land as the main source of livelihood–and it did so for many families.

Discovery of a viable alternative to a land-based economy ushered in other profound changes in Micronesian values and institutions. Formerly the livelihood of any individual was dependent on the kin group that held the rights to the land on which he lived. Now, with a cash salary, one could act independently of their lineage group. Accordingly, the economic ties between the individual and his kin weakened. So did the ties between people and their land. The heads of households began feeding their own families rather than putting the food at the disposal of the head of their extended kin group. They also began making decisions over their own children and on other household matters that once would have been referred to the lineage head in the past.

Under this new social order, fathers felt a new responsibility to provide for their own children even if this meant neglecting the children of their own lineage–that is, their sisters' children. Their attention came to be focused more and more on their own immediate family in contrast to the larger kin group. Under this pressure, land inheritance patterns started changing as fathers plotted to bestow their lineage land on their own children. At the same time, the extended family group, which had once assumed such an important share in rearing children, began to withdraw from this responsibility. This left it to parents to supervise and discipline their own children unassisted. The traditional extended family system was fading away, while the nuclear family system, in which the father had full authority over his children and provided their material needs, was on the ascendancy.

Life Today

Life has changed greatly in FSM today due to the changes of the last 30 years. Although the old mode of food production is still practiced by the majority of the island people in the nation, many families have come to depend mainly on a wage economy. The towns in all parts of FSM have expanded, especially during the 1970s, as thousands of Micronesians moved to these centers in search of employment, schooling, government services and entertainment. As income increased, hundreds have purchased automobiles or motorboats. The traditional thatch houses have given way to cement or wooden structures everywhere except in the most distant atolls–and even there can be found numerous buildings of modern construction.

With these changes have come still others. Young people today have greater access to educational opportunities than before; hundreds are going off to college each year, whereas 30 years ago the college-bound could be numbered in the dozens. Life expectancy is increasing, infant mortality is declining, and the number of options enjoyed by the average man or woman has multiplied enormously.

Yet, some of the changes are both profound and ominous. With the influence of a money economy, attitudes toward land have begun to change, altering land inheritance patterns and choice of residence and loosening the ties that once bound people to their own estates. The traditional family institutions have also been shaken by these changes. Although the extended family exists in some form in all parts of the nation, there has been a radical shift toward the nuclear family just about everywhere. This has had a great impact on social problems, as we shall see in Chapter 10. The boundaries between genders are being blurred and the social roles of men and women are in the process of being redefined. What had been a partnership in the past is sometimes viewed as a power struggle today. Many of the attitudes and values that were part and parcel of the subsistence mode of thought are beginning to crumble.

As significant as these changes may be, we should not overstate them. Micronesian people have retained the distinctive flavor of island life in many other respects. The generosity, gregariousness and hospitality, among other things, that have always been a trademark of island people are in evidence today, even if their lifestyle has been irremediably altered in the last generation.

CHAPTER 3: History and the Development of Government Systems

Traditional Political Systems

The political systems in Micronesia varied greatly from island to island, ranging from the more elaborate and stratified chieftainships of Pohnpei and Kosrae to the simple authority systems of the low atolls in the Central Carolines.

Pohnpei was fragmented into various polities for most of its history, although tradition tells of a period when the island was united under a dynasty known as the Saudeleurs. In more recent times Pohnpei was divided into five districts, each of them headed by a paramount chief (Nahnmwarki) who held title to all land in his district. His "talking chief" (Nahniken) was chosen from the second ranking clan in the district. These two figures stood at the head of parallel lines of high-ranking titled persons. The districts were broken up into sections (kousapw), each of them ruled by a sectional chief. The sectional chief received first fruits from all those under him, and he in turn was expected to pay the same kind of tribute to his paramount chief.

Kosrae's traditional political system was much like Pohnpei's but was more centralized. A single paramount chief (tokosra) ruled over the entire island, which was divided into several sections and more than 50 subsections. As in Pohnpei, the sectional chiefs paid tribute to the paramount chief while receiving first fruits from their people. Kosrae's chiefly system lapsed into disuse during the last century as a result of a sharp drop in the population. Today nothing of the traditional political system survives. Kosrae had a title system, but it was probably not as complex as Pohnpei's.

The high islands of Yap never had the strong, centralized authority system of the islands in eastern Micronesia. Political authority was most tightly organized at the village level, governed by a chief with a council composed of the heads of the other lineages. The fact that villages were ranked by caste made it easier to form sectional units, although these lacked the strong authority structures of the villages. The villages were traditionally grouped into eight districts, each headed by one of the highest ranking villages. In precontact times these groupings shifted depending on alliances.

Chuuk and the culturally related atolls of the Central Carolines had the least elaborate political organization. Each island was divided into several districts, with even the smallest atolls having two or three. The district chief was traditionally the head of the senior lineage in that district, but his authority over land and other community affairs was limited. In some cases one of the district chiefs might be recognized as chief of the entire island. When this happened, he never had the luxury of making decisions on his own. His role, instead, was to mediate between the other district chiefs to reach a collective decision on matters affecting the island.

          Chuuk: Getting Used to Being Governed

Chuuk had always had a poor reputation among European seamen and copra traders for the belligerent nature of its people. "Living in Chuuk is like living over a volcano," wrote one Protestant missionary in the 1880's (Hezel 1995: 63). The tiny districts in Chuuk were constantly forming and reforming alliances to do battle with one another. Warfare was a chronic condition in precolonial Chuuk.

When the German district officer from Pohnpei paid his first visit to Chuuk in late 1904, he asked the people to turn in all their firearms. In a surprising show of compliance, the Chuukese surrendered over 400 rifles and 2,500 hundred cartridges without the least resistance. From early German rule through the end of the US trusteeship a decade ago, Chuuk remained a model of docile acceptance of colonial rule.

Chuukese may have found under colonial rule what they had never experienced before: unity and peace. Chuuk's traditional authority system was founded on small family units, with a lineage exercising control over a very limited land area on an island. As the land area under the sway of a lineage became more populated, it tended to fragment into still other fiefdoms. Chuuk was a divided society that never had the strong chiefly authority of Pohnpei or Kosrae. Its small districts could and did band together under traditional alliances, two or three of which are remembered in oral tradition, but these were impermanent and shaky arrangements aimed at gaining support in time of war.

With the coming of full self-government, the foreign rule that had unified Chuuk for years is gone. The Chuukese people, who lacked any form of centralized government, are now obliged to find some way to govern effectively. They must do so without the benefit of some of the political traditions that other states enjoy. Yap, with its strong village authority, had a legacy of common work to complete public projects: roads paved with stone, community meeting houses, village docks, etc. Pohnpei and Kosrae, with their paramount chiefdoms, had a long tradition of surrendering land and goods at the request of the chief for the good of the community. The high chiefs in both places once enjoyed, in effect, the power of eminent domain, for they could recall land allotted to people for their use.

Since political authority in Chuuk never extended far beyond the lineage, there was no opportunity to develop confidence in more far-reaching political systems. Today, under the modern government system, the people of Chuuk are being challenged to do this for perhaps the first time.

Colonial History

After about 50 years of regular contact with the West, during which period the islands received regular visits from warships to administer justice, Micronesia was finally annexed outright. Spain claimed the islands in 1886 and soon set up government headquarters on Yap and Pohnpei. Aside from the introduction of Catholicism, Spanish rule left no lasting mark on the islands.

When Germany purchased the Caroline Islands from Spain in 1899, fast on the heels of the Spanish-American War, it made an effort to develop its new colony. It appointed flag chiefs over those islands that had none, established chiefly councils, and succeeded in completing a series of public works projects on Pohnpei and Yap. Next the German government imposed a head tax paid in labor on all adults. The colonial government also sought to implement sweeping development reforms aimed at maximizing production on the land and eliminating the "wasteful" feasting that was so common in some places. These ended abruptly when a local uprising broke out on Pohnpei in 1910.

Japanese rule, which began in 1914 with the seizure of the islands from Germany at the outbreak of World War I, continued for 30 years and left a much more lasting imprint on the islands. With the help of Okinawan and Japanese settlers, the government effected an economic miracle in Micronesia. Production for export reached such a level that the foreign administration of the islands became self-supporting. Although the local population was largely untouched by this economic boom, they were introduced to a variety of consumer goods and foreign customs that had a genuine appeal for them. Japanese authorities continued the practice, begun by the Germans, of appointing flag chiefs and setting up island-wide councils.

When the US took possession of the islands as a United Nations trust territory after World War II, the navy's official administrative policy was intentionally the opposite of Japanese policy. The US determined that it would embark on no ambitious development programs in the islands unless Micronesians themselves led the way. On the other hand, the blind faith of the US in democracy was so strong that it felt obliged to impose new political structures on island people. The three-fold division of government into executive, legislative and judicial was established. The first elections were held in 1947, but Micronesians used them as an opportunity to reassert their own political traditions. In these elections they reinstated the legitimate traditional chiefs who had been ousted by the Japanese administration.

The final two decades of US administration were years of accelerated development. Millions of dollars were pumped into the construction of roads, docks, runways and other infrastructural improvements. New schools and hospitals were constructed, and the government payroll soared as hundreds of new employees were added each year.

At the very time that public services were expanding and the cost of government increasing, Micronesia was preparing for self-government. The Congress of Micronesia, which was created in 1965, was conducting negotiations with the US on its future political status. Eventually it agreed to the Compact of Free Association with the US, an agreement that gave FSM full self-government while delegating to the US responsibility for its defense and conceding military rights in the islands. The US agreed to give a yearly subsidy to the FSM in exchange for these rights.

In 1978, three years after Micronesian leaders had ratified their constitution, the FSM was granted self-government by the US and the first chief executives were chosen in a popular election. The new nation began to function in that year, although it was not formally recognized by the US and other world powers until final approval of the Compact of Free Association in 1986.

The Modern Government

The modern government system operates at three levels: the national, state, and municipal. The national (FSM) government and each of the four states have their own executive, legislative and judicial branches.

The Congress of FSM is made up of 14 senators, four of whom are elected "at large." The president and vice president can be chosen only from these "at large" members of congress. The FSM national government was originally envisioned as conducting foreign relations and regulating immigration, trade, banking, shipping and national resource development. With time, however, it has expanded its supervisory role over such fields as education and health services.

The states have their own constitutions under which they operate. All have elected governors who serve a four year term, an elected legislature, and their own state court. The government structures at the municipal level vary from state to state. Municipalities may legislate for their own communities providing their laws do not conflict with those of the state or national government.

A major issue that FSM faces is how to integrate the traditional political system into the modern government apparatus. Yap seems to have been more successful in this respect than any of the other states. The two councils of chiefs in Yap, one for the main islands and the other for the outer islands, have, by law, veto powers over issues of custom and tradition. In Pohnpei there are periodic attempts to legislate a formal status for high chiefs in the government, but this is always voted down on the grounds that it would cheapen their traditional position to have them join the political fray. One could add that it would also render the elected officials impotent. Hence, the traditional and modern systems continue to operate separately of one another. Although traditional chiefs continue to be paid customary respect, their de facto authority in community matters seems to be eroding.

It is worth noting that, appearances to the contrary, traditional leaders did not enjoy absolute power over their people. Even in former times when chiefs had full title to the land, their power was subject to what we might call checks and balances. In return for the respect shown them and the tribute paid them, chiefs were expected to be generous in their apportionment of land and redistribution of tribute and other gifts to their people. Despite their status difference, chiefs were bound by the obligation of reciprocity. Failure to fulfill these obligations could lead people to withdraw their support for their chief, sometimes with disastrous consequences for the chief.

This relationship has been altered greatly today. When paramount chiefs on Pohnpei bestow titles, they are sometimes given in return a check for several thousand dollars or the key to a pickup truck instead of the traditional feast with yams, pigs and sakau. In such cases the obligatory redistribution is ignored. It appears that the traditional system has frozen in place, thus denying commoners some of the protection and benefits they would have received in former times. One must then ask whether the reciprocity between the elected leaders in the modern government and the people they serve is faring any better.

Another issue often raised is what role women should have in FSM's modern representative government at all levels. If women's political power were to be measured in terms of their seats in the legislatures or municipal councils, the picture would look very bleak. No more than four women have been elected to the state legislatures since 1978, and women have never held a seat in the national congress. This absence of female representation, however, must be seen in the light of the strict separation of men and women's roles that has until recently been practiced everywhere in the FSM (see Chapter 2). At this stage in the political development of FSM, one must look, as a sign of progress, to the complementary but less public roles that women are beginning to play in today's society. This will be expanded upon in later chapters.

CHAPTER 4: Demographic Trends

Present Population and Distribution by State

The 1994 FSM Census showed that FSM had a total population of 105,506, of which 3,205 or 3% of the total population were foreigners (other Pacific Islanders, Filipinos, Chinese, Americans, and "others") .

Table 4. 1 FSM Population by State, 1994

Area Total Population Non-Micronesians
Total FSM















Source: 1994 FSM Census of Population and Housing (June and July 1996)

Chuuk State had over half of the FSM total population, followed by Pohnpei with almost a third;
Yap and Kosrae made up the remainder.

Population Trends

From the turn of the century through the Japanese Colonial period (1914-1945), all four states exhibited negligible or negative population growth, even as the Japanese population swelled during those same years. Despite the medical advances brought by the Japanese, fertility was low and infant mortality remained high. After World War II, by contrast, the four states experienced very rapid population growth. Even Yap, which had suffered a steady population decline since the 1880s, showed a reversal of earlier patterns. With the improvement of health services after the war, mortality declined dramatically while fertility remained high. The annual natural growth rate soared at well over 3 percent. This high rate of growth continued through the 1980s, alarming economists and development planners if not always the local population. Since the late 1980s, however, the growth rate appears to have dropped greatly, with a single exception. The growth rate of Chuuk remains high even today.

Population Density

As the population increases, so does population density. Population density is an important concern to this island nation which has a limited land area of 700 square kilometers (271 square miles), bounded on all sides by the Pacific Ocean. Limited land areas have limited natural resources. The population densities presented in Table 4.2 do not give an accurate representation of real population pressure, since all types of lands (not just habitable and arable) are used in the computations. As population density increases, those natural resources that are most accessible to settlers are vulnerable to over-use and environmental degradation.

Chuuk state's land area is roughly equal to Kosrae's and Yap's, but its population density is nearly three times the national average. All other state densities are lower than the national average. Pohnpei has the largest land area but is still the second most crowded state. Kosrae is the smallest in land area and the least crowded state.

Population Growth

At over 3 percent, FSM's annual population growth rate in post-war years was one of the highest in the world. For years its population growth has been regarded as one of the most serious of the nation's problems. This was seen as a grave obstacle to development, especially in view of the nation's small land area, limited natural resources, and the projected decline in US aid during the last years of the Compact.

1994 census data indicate a downward trend in the annual rate of population growth and total fertility rates. This is encouraging because FSM, with its limited economic potential, is having difficulty keeping up with the many needs of a rapidly increasing population. FSM's annual population growth rate dropped sharply in the early 1990s. Nonetheless, it is important to note that even if the reduced annual growth rate of 1.9% were to continue, FSM's population would double in about 30 years.

Table 4. 2 Population Density for FSM, 1994











Land Area (sq kilometers)





Density (persons/ km)






Source: Adapted from 1994 FSM Census of Population and Housing

The recent drop in the natural growth rate can be attributed to two causes: heavy emigration from FSM since the beginning of the Compact period, and a significant decline in FSM's natural birth rate.

Table 4. 3 FSM Annual Population Growth Rates, 1958-1994


Rate/Yr (%)



















Source: Censuses of Trust Territory of the Pacific and FSM


Emigration to Guam and Saipan has been an important factor in the decline of FSM's population growth rate since 1986, the year of the inception of the Compact of Free Association. With the Compact provision allowing FSM citizens to enter the US and its territories freely for education or employment, thousands of people left FSM to find jobs elsewhere. Guam and Saipan were favorite destinations. Table 4.4 shows the estimated size of the migrant populations from FSM in both these islands in 1994 based on measured emigration from 1986 to 1992. The same table, using the sum of the 1994 resident population of FSM and the projected migrant populations on these two islands as a denominator, offers rough figures for the rate of emigration to these two islands during the early Compact years. Employing this method of aggregating FSM resident and migrant populations, we may estimate the emigration rate of FSM at about 1 percent a year, with Chuuk's rate the highest of the states at 1.2 percent.

Table 4. 4 FSM Resident and Migrant Population in Guam and the CNMI,
1994, with Migrants as Percentage of Total FSM-born Population and Yearly Migration Rate

Resident Population Migrants (est.)


Migrants (%)


Rate/Yr. (%)

FSM Total






















































Source: Hezel and Levin, 1996.

Had it not been for the sudden increase in emigration during the Compact years, the annual population growth would have been significantly higher than it was. Table 4.5 indicates what the annual growth rate, state by state, actually was for the period 1989-1994 and what it would have been if there had been no emigration to Guam and Saipan.

Migration within FSM was also measured by the 1994 Census. Those figures showed that only Pohnpei had a net population gain, probably because it is the nation's capital and attracts national-level employees and their families. The other three states showed a net loss of people.

Table 4. 5: Annual Growth Rate of FSM Population by State, with and without migration, 1989-1994.


Natural Growth Rate
w/o migration

Migration Rate

Natural Growth Rate
(with migration)

















FSM Total




Source: FSM 1994 Census; Hezel & Levin 1996.

Birth Rate and Fertility Rate

The decline in the population growth rate is not only due to emigration from FSM. The birth rate has been decreasing for the last decade and a half, the 1994 FSM Census shows. The crude birth rate (CBR)-that is, the number of births in a year divided by the population-has dropped from 38.5 in 1980 to 33.3 in 1990, and has further declined to 31.4 in 1993 (FSM OPS, 1996a: 28-29).

This decrease has been reflected in the decline of fertility rates in FSM. The nation had a total fertility rate (TFR; total births to an average woman, 15-44 years of age) of 4.6, according to the 1994 census. While a 4.6 TFR still contributes to a rapidly growing population, the fertility rate of FSM has been steadily declining. If the current trend continues, FSM's fertility rate could be down to 3.2 by 2009.

The total fertility rate of FSM might be compared with those of other Pacific nations. Based on 1993 data, the Marshall Islands' rate was among the highest in the Pacific at 7.2. CNMI's rate of 2.4 is attributed to a low fertility rate among female migrant workers from Asia. If foreign women were excluded, the rate would very likely be about 5.6. Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu had fertility rates of over 5 (Haberkorn, 1995).

In 1994, Chuuk had the highest number of children per mother (average of 5.6 births) and Yap the lowest number (average of 3.7 births). However, Yap's fertility rate was affected by the significant number of foreign women on Yap Proper who were of reproductive age and had very low fertility. Yap and Pohnpei had high fertility rates among younger women, while Chuuk's high fertility rate among older women suggests an absence of family planning there. Fertility rates were lower for women with more education and women who were in the labor force, suggesting that policies to reduce fertility levels could be directed at increasing female education levels and participation in the work force. Strengthening of family planning programs and education of the people regarding population issues would also be advisable.

Table 4. 6 Past and Projected Total Fertility Rates of FSM, 1980-2009


Total Fertility Rate
























Source: Computations by Micronesian Seminar, based on 1994 Census

Population Profiles

Figure 4. 3 Population Pyramids of FSM: 1973 and 1994




Source: 1973 TTPI Census; 1994 FSM Census of Population and Housing

As evidenced by the near equal length of the lowest two bars of the FSM 1994 population pyramid, there was almost no growth in the youngest segment of the FSM population over the 10 years prior to the 1994 census and very little growth during the five years previous to this. This is mainly due to the decline in the FSM birth rate during the past decade and extensive loss through emigration.

Although the sex ratio has remained about 105 males per 100 females from 1973 through 1994, there appears to be a shortage of males in the 20-29 age group and in the 50+ group. This is thought to be due to selective out-migration of males, aged 20-29. The decline in the 50+ group may be due to a combination of emigration and mortality.

The FSM general population is gradually increasing in age. Since 1973 the median age has risen by one year, to 17.8 years, according to the 1994 census.

FSM's 1994 dependency ratio was 89 (meaning that for every 100 persons of working age, there are 89 dependents, i.e., children and elderly), a decline from 102 in 1973. This indicates a relative increase in the working age population. (The dependency ratio should not be confused with the economically active ratio which considers only economically active persons of working age.) The decrease in the dependency ratio can be considered a positive change, although the decrease in at least one state (Yap) could be attributable in part to the presence of 300 Asian workers employed at a garment factory that was opened in 1986.

Population Projections

Population projections are only as accurate as the assumptions used when calculating them. Such projections can be helpful to planners, policy makers, administrators, etc. in preparing for future population impacts on the nation's cultural, environmental, social and economic resources. Three projected population scenarios (based on possible variations in fertility, mortality and migration) are depicted in Figure 4.4.

Table 4.7: Demographic Indicators from Other Micronesian Islands


Census Year

Growth Rates

Median Age

Sex Ratio












Marshall Islands

















Source: FSM Census 1994Figure 4. 4 Three Projected Population Scenarios, 1994 to 2014

Source: 1994 FSM Census of Population and Housing

Scenario 1 represents the upper population growth extreme by the year 2014, and is based on the presuppositions that the fertility rate will remain constant, the mortality rate will improve moderately, and no further migration will occur. Scenario 3 represents the lower population growth extreme by the year 2014; it presumes that the fertility rate will rapidly decline, the mortality rate will improve moderately, and the migration rate will decline moderately. Scenario 2 is believed to be the most likely situation over the next 10 years according to the FSM Office of Planning and Statistics. It presumes a moderate decline in the fertility rate, moderate improvement in the mortality rate, and moderate decline in the migration rate.

Whichever scenario proves to be more accurate, it is crucial for policy makers and planners to expect FSM's future population to be much larger no matter what happens to current fertility levels due to a "momentum of population growth." The momentum exists because in today's population the large numbers of young women entering their child-bearing years by far exceeds the number of older women leaving their reproductive years. Even if fertility levels continue to fall, this will be offset, at least for a time, by declining infant mortality rates and higher life expectancies (Haberkorn, 1995).

Population increases mean greater needs for job opportunities, schools, infrastructure, public utilities, police and fire protection, emergency services, housing, recreational facilities, health facilities and services, other social services, etc. Moreover, the large unemployed segment of the adult population will feel additional pressure on the limited land at their disposal to produce the food required to feed themselves. Needless to say, as the FSM develops its nascent tourist industry, the country will experience further strain on its infrastructure, public services, and other resources.

Population growth clearly remains an area of concern for FSM, as it is for most countries in the Pacific. In view of the declining birth rates and the heavy emigration over the last decade, however, it is no longer as critical an issue as it was ten or fifteen years ago. The most likely trajectories for the population change over the next 20 years would show a growth to between 140,000 and 150,000 by 2014. While population growth of this magnitude is a serious matter, FSM citizens can be expected to adjust the population to available resources, as the people living on coral atolls have always done and continue to do today. Emigration is a safety valve that was written into the Compact for that purpose and has drained off some of the surplus labor pool in the last ten years. A more serious question, and the one that commands the attention of the nation at this time, is: How even the existing population will fare at the end of the Compact in 2001.

CHAPTER 5: The Economy

The Uncertain Future

The Federated States of Micronesia has reached a critical point in its road toward economic development. After some 40 years of support from the US as a Trust Territory, FSM inaugurated a period of Free Association with the US that provided an additional 15 years of funding at declining levels. The last of the step-downs in the Compact funding became effective in October 1996. FSM now faces the prospect of the termination of US funding , at least at the level it has enjoyed for the past 30 years.

With Compact funds running down, FSM faces a dilemma that is different from that of most other Pacific Island nations. Most of the latter must weigh the social costs of industrialization and their impact on the old cultural ways against improving the living standard for a growing population. While FSM must deal with these concerns, it faces the more serious problem of replacing the US aid that has provided for the social and government services that its citizens have enjoyed in the past. Hence, economic growth and dynamic change is necessary in FSM simply to maintain the status quo.

The Upside-down Economy?


In most countries, the private sector is larger than the government sector, and it is through taxes on this private sector that government supports itself and provides essential services to the people. However, in the FSM, the process is reversed. The national, state, and municipal governments are the major sources of employment and cash. The small businesses that make up most of the FSM private sector are service rather than production oriented.

Micronesians passed a crucial point in the 1960s and early 1970s. With the great infusion of US funding, they came to rely on wage employment that depended on a large government bureaucracy. The character of their very families was being altered to accommodate the reality of a regular cash income. Education, the most expensive of the social services provided by the government, was regarded as a necessity. People had come to expect not six or eight years of schooling but twelve or even sixteen years. The population had acquired a taste for modernity.

In the face of such monetary abundance from the US, bad habits abounded. Rather than developing the private sector, great quantities of funding were spent on "pork" projects and short-lived equipment and amenities. Bureaucracies were expanded, hiring yet more citizens into government employ. When budgets ran short, the US found supplemental money to keep things going. The net result was to encourage governments to quickly spend and exhaust their annual budgets, so that they were ensured an early position in the queue for supplemental aid.

Attempts to boost production for export–through fishing, copra, and farm produce–were not successful. In recent years, the government has turned to the sale of rights as a source of income. The most notable example of this is the licensing of fishing rights to foreign countries.

With government being the largest "engine" running the economy, the question (and concern) is just how nation-states that lack a substantial resource base and a well-developed private sector economy will support their acquired tastes under their own government as US subsidies continue to dwindle.

The Growth of Government

In the early 1960s the US greatly increased its subsidies to what was then known as the Trust Territory of the Pacific. The US decided to abandon its earlier "go slow" policy and move towards rapid modernization, using the development theory that supported investment in social services as the key to modernization. There was little emphasis on economic development as such – the main targets were administration and social services, in addition to infrastructure projects such as roads, docks, and runways. Overall, one of the most visible effects of the increase in budgets was to employ hundreds of previously unemployed Micronesians. As more Micronesians found employment with the largest employer in the region, the government, a corresponding service economy evolved in the private sector.

In 1962, just before the period of rapid growth began, Micronesians' total wages and salaries were about equal to the value of their yearly exports, $2.3 million. By 1977, the total yearly earnings from salaries had shot up to $42 million, while the value of exports remained at about the 1962 level (Hezel, 1984). The economy was based on government wages rather than productivity. The linchpin of the village cash economy throughout the territory was the local public elementary school, which brought in more money through teachers' salaries than anything else (Hezel, 1982).

The Compact of Free Association

The country continues to rely heavily on grant aid from the US under the Compact of Free Association, which became effective in November 1986, and lasts for a 15-year period. The major element is a block grant, adjusted for inflation, of $60 million annually for the first five years, $51 million annually for the next five years, and $40 million annually for the final five years. By the terms of the Compact, 40 percent of the annual subsidy is to be used for capital projects, while the remainder may be spent on current operations. The Compact also provides for many smaller annual grants for specified purposes supervised by different federal agencies. Including non-Compact assistance, mainly for health and education, US grant receipts have amounted to over $100 million in recent years. The high level of external funding has enabled the governments to expand their operations with limited reliance on domestic revenue collection (FSM Economic Summit, 1995).

The first increment of Compact funds was targeted for infrastructure development, a stage referred to as "Transition and Reconstruction." The second increment was to be used in investments and economic ventures, and was called "Sustained Economic Growth." The last five years of Compact funds were to further refine earlier investment, "Achievement of Economic Self-Reliance" (FSM/OPS, 1992a)

The Compact is scheduled to end in 2001. While there are provisions to negotiate an extension, it would be dependent on the willingness of the US to provide continued funding.

The Structure

The resulting dual economy has a small modern sector concentrated in the urban districts of the main islands, and a traditional sector prevalent in rural and remote areas. The modern sector is thoroughly monetized. The traditional sector relies largely on subsistence activities in agriculture and fisheries. In general, while a few rural families may have an adequate cash income, people who live outside of the immediate area of the developed urban districts and towns tend to support themselves by subsistence or semi-subsistence activities. Subsistence production, estimated at 35 percent of the nation's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 1986, decreased to 21 percent of GDP by 1995. This reduction in the subsistence share of GDP is largely due to the expansion of the monetized economy since the start of the Compact, and not due to any real reductions in subsistence activity itself. Subsistence activity remains very important to the people of the FSM (Pohnpei State Economic Summit, 1996).


The economy is characterized by two major economic imbalances: 1) a large and growing internal fiscal deficit, an indication that the FSM government costs are not diminishing along with outside grants, and 2) a large foreign debt. Fiscal surpluses for the first four years of the Compact period have been followed by a series of fiscal deficits reaching as high as 5 percent of GDP. The external imbalance is characterized by large deficits, though the relative size of the deficit has decreased in recent years. The deficit has been financed by a combination of external borrowing and drawing down reserves, in effect getting "advances" against future Compact revenues (FSM Economic Summit, 1995). The government has been drawing on its future funds so it can finance projects it feels are important now. To date, two of the projects focus on infrastructural development – telecommunications and water and sewage development – and one project on agriculture. The remaining six focus on fishing, and range from the creation of cold-storage facilities to the purchase of vessels.

GDP and Growth

Government expenditures account for a large portion of the real GDP. In 1994, with a GDP of $200.9 million, government expenditures came to over 80 percent of the GDP, some $162.7 million.

GDP growth has been slow and erratic. The most recent contraction of real output was in 1992, resulting from a drought, a typhoon, and the first stepdown in Compact funding.

Table 5.1 FSM Gross Domestic Product, 1986-1996 (1995-1996 Estimated)


FY86 FY87 FY88 FY89 FY90 FY91 FY92 FY93 FY94 FY95 FY96
1 179.1 173.0 177.4 177.3 185.6 199.4 201.9 204.8 200.9 202.6 204.3
2 7.9 -3.4 2.5 -0.1 4.7 7.4 1.2 1.5 -1.9 0.8 0.8
3 2,039 1,910 1,901 1,851 1,891 1,986 1,971 1,967 1,904 1,896 1,887
4 4.8 -6.3 -0.5 -2.6 2.1 5.0 -0.8 -0.2 -3.2 -3.6 -0.9

1 – Real Total GDP, in $Million
2 – Real GDP Growth Rate, in Percent
3 – Real GDP Per Capita in 1995 $
4 – Real GDP Per Capita Growth Rate, in Percent

Sources: FSM Dept. of Finance, SSA IMF, EMPAT Estimates.

GDP per capita was estimated at $1,904 in 1994. Per capita growth has been negative in seven of the first nine years of the Compact, and the real per capita income level is slightly less in 1995 than in 1988.

Inflation has been somewhat higher than US rates – currently at about 4 percent – and has had the effect of diminishing the real value of Compact monies. This is significant since this diminishment accompanies scheduled stepdowns in Compact funds.

Exports account for about 30 percent of GDP and imports are equivalent to over 85 percent of GDP. Merchandise exports increased thirty-fold from 1986 to 1994, largely due to the fish and garment industries. The garment industry alone accounted for over $2 million in export value during 1994. Unfortunately, these exports offer a very low value-added potential to the FSM. For instance, the garment industry uses imported textiles and foreign employees, minimizing the possible contributions of the industry to the local economy and increasing imports for the material it uses. Likewise, the FSM has collected fees from other governments in exchange for allowing them to fish within the FSM economic zone, but does not yet have its own full-fledged fishing industry. This has been exacerbated by FSM policy which has, in the instance of fish, placed emphasis on quantity rather than quality, further discounting value added potential. For instance, while the nation receives around $22 million annually for fish licensing and access fees, the market value of the catch is about $250 million. This explains the slow and sporadic domestic output growth in the face of expanding exports.

Table 5.2 Export/Import Values and Import/Export Ratio, 1990-1995 (1995 Estimated)
Values in $Millions

  1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995
Exports 5 11 21 28 29 30
Imports 108 122 123 137 141 138
Ratio (Imports/Exports) 23 11 6 5 5 5

Source: FSM Economic Summit, 1995.


The public sector has historically been the largest employer in the country. Predominant are jobs in the public administration and educational fields. In 1992, along with the first step-down in funds from the Compact (resulting in government job cutbacks), the number of jobs in the private sector finally surpassed those of the public sector (FSM/OPS, 1996a).

While the private sector increases are welcome, they come largely in the service industries – transportation, trade (including small stores), hotels and restaurants, etc., and do not normally command the highest earning power. Neither do they contribute to a balance of foreign exchange by providing goods and services that can be marketed abroad.

Table 5.3 Employment by Sector and Year, 1989-1994 (Numbers of Employees)

  1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994
Public 6,733 6,820 7,303 6,645 6,757 6,324
Private 5,432 6,317 6,466 7,108 7,026 7,396
Total 12,165 13,137 13,769 13,753 13,783 13,720

Sources: FSM Statistical Handbook, 1995; FSM Social Security System, 1994.

However, while job numbers in the private sector exceed those of the public sector, public sector wages have increased markedly since the early Compact years and significantly outpace private sector wages. This indicates that the earning power still rests within the public sector, a disincentive to those seeking employment in the private sector. Although males hold most of the jobs in both the public and private sectors, the proportion of males in the public sector is higher. However, these trends have shown declines recently, in the face of government hiring slowdowns and private sector growth, mainly in the wholesale and retail trade and in manufacturing. The wage gaps should close even further, given the intentions of national and state governments to freeze wages and reduce the number of employees.

Approximately seven percent of the FSM employed labor force is non-FSM citizens, over three-quarters of those being male. The foreign labor force seems to be concentrated in the following professions: doctors and medical personnel, accountants, mechanics, fishermen, craftsmen and construction workers.

Table 5.4 FSM Wages and Salaries, 1986-1995, by Public and Private, with Percentages of Total (In $Millions)

  1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995
Public, $M 39.3 42.8 45.2 46.0 48.8 52.2 53.3 57.8 58.5 60.4
Public percent 74.3 74.0 66.4 63.9 66.8 67.2 67.0 61.4 58.3 56.5
Private, $M 13.6 15.0 22.9 26.0 24.2 25.5 26.2 36.4 41.9 46.5
Private percent 25.7 26.0 33.6 36.1 33.2 32.8 33.0 38.6 41.7 43.5

Sources: FSM Dept of Finance; IMF and EMPAT Staff Estimates.


Unemployed persons are defined, for the purpose of the 1994 census, as those who were looking and available for work in the four weeks preceding the census. At the time of the census, the working age population (15-64) numbered 59,573, or 56 percent of the total population. Those in the labor force-that is, those who were employed (either for wages or in the subsistence sector) and those actively seeking work-constituted about 44 percent of the working age population.

Table 5.5 shows that 4,216 persons, or 7.1 percent of the working-age population were unemployed. This number, when divided by the total labor force, yields an unemployment rate of 16.2 percent for the FSM population. The same table indicates that an even greater number of people-6,125 persons-who were not employed claimed that they could have taken a job but, because they were not actively seeking work, were not counted in the labor force. The inclusion of these discouraged potential workers, as they might be termed, would bring the number of unemployed to over 10,300 persons and yield an unofficial but possibly more accurate unemployment rate of 32 percent for the nation.

The formal unemployment rate in FSM reveals a wide disparity by sex and age cohort, as Table 5.6 indicates. The unemployment rate for males was 10 percent, while the rate for females was almost 27 percent. Unemployment rates were highest at the ends of the age spectrum, as might be expected. Those in the age 15-19 age bracket had the highest rate, 37.4 percent.

Table 5.7 Unemployment by Educational Achievement and Sex, 1994
(Percentage based on those in Labor Force)




AB degree 1.7 2.0 1.8
AA degree 3.5 4.8 3.9
high school diploma 8.1 20.5 12.5
elementary school 15.6 34.7 22.8

Source: 1994 FSM Census, p. 88.

Table 5.6 Unemployment Rates by Age and Sex (Figures in Percent)

Age Group Total Males Females
15-19 37.4 30.8 48.3
20-24 29.9 20.8 42.3
25-29 18.2 12.2 28.4
30-34 13.0 8.9 20.9
35-39 10.3 6.8 17.0
40-44 8.8 4.2 18.7
45-49 7.2 4.0 15.7
50-54 6.9 3.6 16.0
55-59 7.1 4.3 14.7
60-64 8.8 5.3 18.6
65-75+ 29.0 24.1 41.6
Total 16.2 10.7 26.9

Source: FSM Census, 1994.

Education, as might be expected, is the largest factor in deciding who will get the relatively few salaried positions available. The figures in Table 5.7 suggest that educational achievement is a much more reliable predictor of wage employment than either sex or age. For those with a two- or four-year college degree, unemployment rates in FSM are lower than in many developed countries. At the level of a high school diploma and lower, the unemployment rates rise sharply and the differences between males and females become accentuated. The female rate is over twice as high as the male rate for those in the two lower educational levels.

In general, the high unemployment figures underline the contrast between the high interest in employment and the low job availability at present. In view of this disparity, many young people have chosen to leave FSM for other islands in search of jobs over the past ten years. If they had not, the unemployment figures we have reviewed here would have been even more alarming. The recent stepdown in Compact funds will almost certainly put a freeze on further public sector hiring. This, coupled with the high unemployment rate among the young, will put a considerable burden on the private sector for new job creation.


In the 1994 Census, subsistence workers were defined as those who farm or fish without selling or intending to sell their produce, and therefore have virtually no cash income. In Table 5.5, however, we stretched the definition to include those who lived chiefly off the land even if they marketed some of what they produced. The number of persons working at the subsistence level, according to the 994 Census, was over 7,300-about 12 percent of all in the working age population and 28 percent of all in the labor force. This figure hardly does justice to the importance of this economic sector. We may suppose that many of those recorded as "not in the labor force" as well as most of the "unemployed" contributed to their household by fishing and working on the land. Even those with full-time wage employment frequently find some time to do farming and fishing.

Subsistence activity is a significant component of FSM's economy, although it may be easily underestimated because of the difficulty in assigning monetary value to what is produced at this level. It is virtually the only economic activity of any importance in the outer islands of Yap, Pohnpei and Chuuk. It is also important as a fall-back option as jobs become fewer and increasingly competitive. In the difficult years ahead subsistence activity, like emigration, may reduce the competition for the few jobs available.

Deficit Reduction Performance

There have been wide performance variations between the five governments within the FSM. These variations are the result of greatly differing degrees of fiscal discipline. While all of the governments espouse reducing current operating deficits through a combination of revenue increases and cuts in expenditures, the primary effort has been on revenue increases. The principal revenue increase has come from fees for fishing access which have increased from $3.7 million in 1987 to approximately $22 million in 1994. The governments have been less successful in expenditure reduction. Throughout the Compact period, the appropriated budgets have consistently exceeded planned budgets, and expenditures have had to be increased by supplemental appropriations. At neither the state nor national levels has there been any significant reduction in total expenditures since the first stepdown in Compact funding in FY 1992 (FSM Economic Summit, 1995).

Development Targets

Past development plans point to three main industries that hold future promise for development and the enhancement of the local economy. They are fisheries, tourism, and agriculture.

Fisheries It is widely agreed that fisheries will probably be the leading sector for FSM development in the near future. With license fee revenues already accounting for approximately 14 percent of the nation's total revenue, there is considerable interest – and some disagreement – as to how the FSM should proceed. Should they merely stand back and license rights to their resources? Should they actively participate in harvesting, processing, and marketing the resource themselves? Should their position be somewhere in between? Past approaches have reflected these wide feelings, and resulting actions have ranged from the purchase of fishing vessels to the establishment of processing plants. To date, there has been no unified decision-making, or direction.

Recommendations of the Marine Resources Committee report to the 1995 FSM Economic Summit pointed out the need for the formulation and establishment of comprehensive policy, management and conservation practices, and the standardization of taxes, fees, and tariffs. The Committee also noted the need for the five government entities to take coordinated and unified approaches to fisheries development. In addition, the Committee recognized traditional subsistence coastal and marine resource use as paramount, and the need to improve human resource development by giving priority to public education, training, and capacity building.

Tourism The FSM has an attractive natural tropical setting, as well as historic and archaeological features. In addition, it is located closer to Asian markets than other island alternatives. Contributions made by tourism to date have been quite modest. Gross receipts rose from about $3 million in 1986 to about $7 million by 1990. However, in that tourism depends on imported supplies and often expatriate personnel, net values are probably considerably less. Visitor counts were essentially flat during the years 1992-1994, at about 25,300 visitors per year. Past reviews have noted that promotion, infrastructure, and transportation are areas that need further development.

What is the Fishing Industry Doing for FSM?


Fishing is the main hope of the FSM for replacing revenue presently being supplied by the US under the Compact of Free Association. It is the vastest and most abundant resource in the FSM.

As an alternative to fishing its own waters, the FSM has been collecting fees from other governments, and allowing them to fish within the FSM economic zone. It currently has agreements with Taiwan, Korea and Japan that are bringing in about $20 million a year, about 14 percent of the FSM government's revenue. Aside from the direct license payments, there are associated sources of additional revenue – shoreside spending and ship servicing, and fines for violations.

Why doesn't FSM exploit the fish resource itself? To some extent, it has. The FSM established the National Fisheries Corporation (NFC), a government-sponsored partnership that can enter into joint-venture fishing operations. NFC is presently involved in joint ventures in each of the states. However, there are any number of problems being encountered. There are existing processing plants that are not designed for the efficient processing of tuna; there are companies that do not have their own fleets of boats, and must depend on purchasing their product from others; some companies have the wrong kinds of boats – considerable investments were made by two states for the purchase of purse-seiners, which have not worked as expected – interestingly, despite this experience, another state is presently considering the purchase of similar technology; most of those fishing are foreigners – Micronesians do not like the long periods at sea that commercial fishing requires.

If the FSM is to develop its own successful fishing industry, it will have to do several things:

1. It will have to provide strong leadership and coordination for the industry. This may mean creating a single national entity, rather than the collection of national and state companies that exist, many of which compete with one another.

2. It will have to create a national fisheries policy, which looks at long-term sustainable development of the resource and industry, and not just short-term opportunities.

3. It will have to develop a strong enforcement presence and monitoring oversight capability.

4. Designate the in-shore fisheries for subsistence use only.

Tourism has the potential to employ a large number of people.

The Tourism Committee report to the 1995 FSM Economic Summit set, as their primary objective, the intention to attract 100,000 visitors per year for an average stay of 5 days. This reflects an increase of 300 percent over present visitor figures, it should be noted.

In terms of strategies to address the objective, the Committee also recognizes the need for more promotion, infrastructure development, respect of culture and lifestyle, and coordination among all levels of government, especially in role and program development.

Agriculture The development of domestic agriculture can have benefits for both domestic and export markets. Along with its ability to reduce the country's dependence imports, it is an important way for people to supplement other incomes. Agricultural produce had a value of $1.6 million in 1994. Agriculture can be a good supporter of the growth of other industries – for instance, serving the needs of an increased tourist industry. In this way, agriculture might best be in a support role to other industries.

The Agriculture Committee report to the 1995 FSM Economic Summit notes the need to improve the institutional and technical aspects of agriculture, and to help increase and diversify agricultural products. The strengthening of sustainable traditional farming was also recommended.

          No Free Lunch

As the FSM heads towards a significant reduction in its outside aid in 2001, the question then becomes, what will replace it? One of the industries offered up as a partial solution is that of tourism. Micronesia has numerous attractions, and there is justifiable interest in capitalizing on them.

More specifically, there is interest in the segment of tourism called "Eco-Tourism." Ecotourism, as the name implies, features visitor offerings pertaining to nature. Ideally, it also offers experiences in ways that are culturally sensitive, and ensures the sustainability of the resources.

Increasingly, ecotourism is being offered up as a "magic bullet." It has something for everyone. It gives a visitor a unique, environmentally-oriented experience, while enhancing local economies, and doing it all in a sustainable way.

That is the plus side. What is not often mentioned in even the succeeding breath, is that there is a price to ecotourism as well, and it may be too high for communities or organizations to bear.

As tourists commit to visiting, so must the supporting organization – be it a community or business – also make commitments. What are the resources to be featured? What is special and why? How will this be communicated to visitors, by self-guided walks, or by formal guides? How will the resources be maintained in a safe and attractive way? How will visitors be managed and treated? How will the resource – and impacts to it – be monitored, and mitigated? In community settings, how intrusive can visitors be? Will they be allowed free access to anywhere they want? How many are tolerable, and how will limits be imposed? How does visitor use impact on use by local people of the same resources? What will visitors do when they are not participating on an organized activity? What happens if the weather is bad, or if a guide cannot show up? How will liability issues be handled? In short, managing resources for tourism is a demanding and work-intensive commitment.

Ecotourism is, by its very nature, of minimal impact, and that also means fewer paying customers, and fewer paid employees. Revenue expectations are often unrealistic. If use levels get too high, and the resources become unduly impacted, it is no longer ecotourism, but eco-exploitation.

Ecotourism has its place. Unfortunately, it is often represented only from the benefit side, and as the solution, rather than as a part of a solution. However, it must be developed and managed with a very clear idea of not only the expected benefits, but the costs and inputs required on the part of its sponsors.

It can be seen that these key industries all have their respective roles to play, and in doing so, can help to strengthen and diversify the FSM's economy.

Changing the Situation

In recent years, the FSM has had economic and financial reviews conducted by several institutions – ADB, IMF, and the World Bank. Their findings generally recognize the same issues identified earlier. They also share many similarities in their suggestions for actions to mitigate present situations, and to move the FSM into a more fiscally independent status.

In November, 1995, the FSM convened its First FSM Economic Summit. As a result of that meeting, a number of economic reform objectives were formulated, which closely parallel the institutional reviews and suggestions.

  • All assessments identify the key issue as that of using the FSM's own resources and those remaining under the Compact to expand the productive capabilities of the country to offset declining external assistance. The short time remaining under the Compact is recognized.
  • All assessments recommend downsizing the public sector – reducing the costs of government, and promoting growth of the private sector. The attractive differences between public and private sector employment have to be removed.
  • All assessments suggest the development of fisheries, tourism, and agriculture as the main future sources of revenue, but note that additional studies, strategies, and policies are needed.
  • All assessments indicate the need for internal structural actions.

a) There has to be a higher level of communication, cooperation and unanimity between the 5 political entities-the National government and the states-to ensure that all have the same information, and that there is no competition or counter-productive activity going on between them.

b) States, like the national government, have to exercise strict fiscal controls to the extent of their authorities.

c) There is a need for a national consensus on policy and strategy.

d) There is a need for a development program with clear priorities, one that is program and policy oriented rather than project oriented.

e) There has to be better use made of taxes, tariffs, and subsidies.

f) Wherever possible, governments should commercialize/privatize public utilities.

  • Several assessments recommended the revitalization of the Banking Board.
  • Several assessments recommended that better economic data are needed to aid in monitoring and evaluating progress.
  • There is a recognition that the nation will be dependent on outside aid-both financial and technical-for some time to come.

The Economy and SHD

The primary goal of the FSM should be "to strengthen the economy and make it more resilient to changes in the world economy" (FSM Economic Summit, 1995). This can only be achieved through the development of the productive economic sectors. Changing the balance of the economy away from the public sector towards the productive sectors is the main challenge currently facing the nation.

Major impediments to economic development are the dispersion of islands and consequent internal transport problems, distance from major markets, lack of adequate infrastructure, limited resource bases, small pools of skilled labor, and rapid population growth.

The key is to employ both the country's own resources and those received under the remaining years of the Compact to ensure that the productive base of the FSM is expanded in order to progressively offset the declining Compact funds. The FSM will also need to seek other sources of foreign assistance to help meet continuing development finance requirements.

The dilemma for the people of FSM is how to maintain the present standard of living and the quality of public services in the future without the level of foreign aid they have been receiving. They must establish productive industries that will supply a tax base large enough to support their large government. They are being rallied to produce economic miracles in their resource-poor nation, while somehow retaining their natural resources, customs and traditions in the face of the social changes that will surely accompany economic modernization.

CHAPTER 6: Education

Historical Background

Western schooling in the area goes back to 1669 when Spanish missionaries established the first school on Guam. German rule in Micronesia in the early 1800s brought the very beginnings of a public school system, but as under the Spanish, education was left mostly in the hands of missionaries. Not long after the Japanese took possession of Micronesia at the start of World War I, a public education system became a reality, growing into 24 schools scattered throughout the Northern Marianas, Caroline Islands and Marshall Islands. These schools offered 3-5 years of basic instruction to about half of the school-age population. When the United States assumed control of Micronesia as a Trust Territory following World War II, it extended elementary schooling through six grades and expanded enrollment everywhere (Hezel, 1989a).

Development of the Present System

In 1963, the last year of Kennedy's presidency, the US doubled its annual budget for Micronesia in a single year and raised it dramatically in the following years. The government undertook a massive school building program. By 1970 the total public school enrollment had doubled, and per pupil expenditure was $240, up from barely $50 in 1962. From that time on virtually all educable, elementary aged children were in a school (Hezel, 1989a). Education is widely regarded by FSM citizens as a necessity, and the FSM Constitution mandates provision of free and compulsory public elementary education to everyone up to the age of 14. In effect, education in the FSM is free at all levels and full government support is provided to all motivated students (Ansari, 1994).

Similar expansions occurred in secondary and post-secondary education in the 1960s. Six additional high schools were built, adding to the two high schools which were servicing the entire region in the 1950s. In 1963 the only post-secondary school in FSM, the College of Micronesia (COM-FSM), began as a two-year elementary teacher education institution and remained so until 1971. Beginning in 1974 the college gradually added to its degree programs and is now accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, has four campuses (on Chuuk, Pohnpei, Yap and Kosrae), and offers two year programs in Education, Liberal Arts, Business, Accounting, Agriculture and Marine Resources (CCM, 1982).

Schools and Enrollment

Throughout FSM there are 164 public elementary schools, 12 private elementary schools, 10 public high schools, and 6 private high schools (PREL, 1987).

Table 6.1: Student Enrollment, Public and Private, 1995








































Source: FSM Department of Education, 1995.

Students are taught in their own language in the earliest grades, but a major objective of the educational system is to develop students' proficiency in the English language. The region contains a number of different native languages and dialects. In Pohnpei alone, four different native languages and three dialects are spoken. Teachers in the earliest grades must be able to speak and teach in the appropriate native languages and dialects in addition to possessing some English-speaking ability.

Increases of enrollment in elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools have been substantial due to rapid population growth. Between 1973 and 1994 elementary enrollment has increased by almost 50 percent, high school enrollment has nearly tripled, and college enrollment increased by a factor of 17 times.

1994 FSM Census data indicates that 93 percent of the elementary school-aged population were enrolled in school. In all, about one-third of the total FSM population was enrolled in school in 1994.

Table 6.2 School Enrollment in FSM, 1973-1994

School Level
Students in 1973 Students in 1994

Percent Increase












Source: 1994 FSM Census

A significant trend in FSM education is the increasing participation of females in higher education. The upward trend is apparent when one compares female public high school enrollment in the Trust Territory years with what it has become in the 1990s. In 1966, for example, 26 percent of the total public high school enrollment was female. By 1972 the female percentage had grown to 39 percent; in 1978 it had increased to 45 percent; and in 1994 it stood at nearly 50 percent. By 1994, male students only slightly outnumbered female students at all levels of education, as Table 6.3 shows. The large gap between male and female access to education has been almost entirely closed in the last 20 years.

Table 6.3 Female Percentage of Total School Enrollment, 1973 and 1994

Educational level




high school





Source: 1973 TT Census, 1994 FSM Census

Increased female participation in education may be due to changes in previously held attitudes that education of females was less important than for males. High school attendance often required a girl to go away from home and board on another island, a move that was formerly unacceptable to traditional chiefs and parents.

Yap outer islanders, who have a reputation for being more traditional than the other islanders in FSM, show a significantly lower percentage of females graduating from the Outer Islands High School than from other high schools. Between 1981 and 1991, females comprised only 29 percent of the total enrollment at Outer Islands High School. During the next two years, the female share of total enrollment increased to about 37 percent. (Yap State OPS, 1987, 1990, 1991, 1992). There are indications that female enrollment will continue to increase even in the Yap Outer Islands in the years ahead.

Private school expansion, especially at the secondary level, has been rapid in the last two decades. The private schools' share of all elementary and secondary students has increased from less than 6 percent in 1980 to about 9 percent in 1994, while the percentage of private high school students has increased from 3 percent in 1980 to nearly 12 percent. In recent years females have outnumbered males in private elementary and pre-schools.

The level of education among the general population has risen markedly since 1980, as Table 6.4 shows. The educational gains made by women, which have already been noted, are reflected in these figures. The percentage of women over the age of 25 with some high school has doubled, and that of women with some college has tripled. The gains for males, while not as dramatic, are still significant. For the overall population, the percentage of those with at least some high school (29 percent) is nearly equal to the percentage of those who attended only elementary school (30 percent). Those with some college have risen from 8 percent to 18 percent of the population.

Table 6.4 Educational attainment of population (25 + yr old), 1980 and 1994 (Percentage who have reached level)




  1980 1994 1980 1994 1980 1994
no school 24.8 14.6 20.2 11.7 29.5 17.6
elementary 49.8 30.3 44.9 24.5 55.1 36.3
high school 17.3 28.7 22.5 31.8 12.0 25.5
college 8.0 18.2 12.5 25.2 3.4 11.2

Source: 1994 Census.

Attrition and High School Completion

Even though elementary education became universal in Micronesia in the 1960s, only about 60 percent of all elementary school graduates enter a high school. This proportion has remained fairly constant since the late 1970s (Hezel, 1989a).

Table 6.5 tracks students from entrance into elementary school through high school graduation (data was not available for Pohnpei). The table shows retention rates (per 100 students) through the first twelve years of formal schooling. Conversely, the table indicates the considerable difference in the attrition rate from state to state.

Table 6.5 School Retention Rates Per 100 Students


1st Grade

8th Grade

9th Grade

12th Grade
















Source: Analysis by Micronesian Seminar based on annual statistical reports from FSM states

Judging from these numbers, Kosrae's educational system may be succeeding where others are not. Kosrae shows the highest elementary school retention rate of any of the states, and a good majority of those who enter first grade continue on to high school graduation. Most of Kosrae's elementary school graduates are admitted to high school, while on Yap about 80 percent of those finishing 8th grade are accepted into high school. In Chuuk, only about half of all 8th grade graduates go on to high school. This is partly explained by the fact that most high school students have to move to another island and board there in order to attend high school. Moreover, Chuuk's high and scattered population puts universal high school education beyond the reach of the state's education budget.

Table 6.5 shows that the high school dropout rates vary greatly from state to state. Just 20 percent of Kosrae's high school students drop out along the way, while the dropout rate in Yap, at over 40 percent, is twice as high. Highest of all is Chuuk, which shows nearly 60 percent of its high school freshmen leaving before graduation.

Overall, less than 40 percent of FSM students who attend elementary school go on to high school and 15-20 percent of all students who enter high school drop-out in the first two years.

Performance in Standardized Tests

The National FSM Department of Education (DOE) conducts a standardized testing program which is meant to help in evaluating the effectiveness of the FSM National Curriculum Minimum Standards. These standards have been implemented in all four states' public elementary and secondary schools. The testing instruments in language arts and math were developed by FSM Education Department. In spring 1995, students in grades six, eight, and ten from both public and private schools were tested. Analyses of language arts test results showed that most students barely passed the test, with average scores of 52-66 percent. Students scored better in the higher grades, and the FSM Education Department concluded that FSM students were "relatively satisfactory in language arts." All of the grades tested in math failed to meet the expected standards (average scores of 36-50 percent), pointing to serious deficiencies in mathematical problem solving skills among FSM students (FSM/DOE 1993).

The assessment of one professional team is that "the FSM education system suffers from unacceptably low quality" and cites the high drop-out rates along with the statistic that "only 20 percent of

Micronesian students are able to pass the TOEFL entrance exam, which requires only very basic competence in English and Mathematics" (FSM/ DOE, 1993).

Table 6.6 College of Micronesia FSM Entrance Test Results, 1993-1996 (Percentage who passed test)













Pohnpei 65 / 236

120 / 301

96 / 330

125 / 309

Kosrae 42 / 105

44 / 126

52 / 130

33 / 147

Chuuk 36 / 182

71 / 242

71 / 309

69 / 305

Yap 10 / 50

14 / 48

28 / 77

18 / 86

Total 153 / 573

249 / 717

269 / 846

245 / 847


Source: FSM Education Department

Note: N = number of those passing over number taking the test.

English entrance test results of freshmen entering COM-FSM in 1994-1995 showed that the largest percentage of students (47 percent) are reading at the 5th to 6th grade level, with 81 percent of freshmen reading at or below the 9th grade level. As Table 6.6 shows, only between 27 and 35 percent of the FSM high school students tested in 1993-1996 passed COM-FSM's entrance test. State results vary by the year, but none show better than 40 percent at any time. Annual testing results have been consistent and are indicative of a nation-wide problem: students are not being adequately prepared in the primary and secondary schools. COM-FSM is attempting to provide college level education to students who are largely reading at a remedial English level (COM-FSM, 1995a; 1995b).

College Enrollment

College enrollment has skyrocketed since 1973, as we have seen in Table 6.2.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the number of Micronesians who attended college remained rather small. For the most part, these were carefully screened students representing the intellectual elite of their schools. Late in 1972 Micronesian students became eligible for US Federal education grants for the economically and socially "disadvantaged." Availability of financial aid and liberal admissions policies of certain US mainland college institutions resulted in a flood of Micronesian students leaving home to go off to college in the 1970s. Since scholarship and grant aid are not as abundant in the 1990s, the numbers of students who can afford to go away to college will probably be reduced. This will almost certainly result in an increase of students attending COM-FSM, since a college education has become widely accepted among Micronesians as a universal right and imperative.

It would be advisable to provide incentives for students to major in programs that will help to alleviate FSM's manpower needs. Of 134 graduates of COM-FSM in 1994, only one student each graduated in Agriculture and Marine Resources which are considered to be fields essential to FSM's economic development. Thirty-one of the 39 faculty members of COM-FSM are expatriates. COM-FSM relies heavily on US funding as well as foreign teaching and administrative staff. The college's programs are not geared to the manpower needs of the FSM. Most of its students are in teacher's training and liberal arts. Ninety percent of the students are enrolled in two-year programs, and 54 percent of the graduates in 1994 were part-time students.

Nearly all FSM students who study at COM-FSM or any institutions outside of FSM have financial aid. A major source of scholarship funds is a US Compact grant of $2 million per year, but students receive additional assistance from US federal programs, especially Pell Grants. Other scholarships are provided by state legislatures, private businesses, and by foreign countries.

Quality of Teachers

Rampant teacher absenteeism is noted as a major problem in all states, but especially in Chuuk and Pohnpei (Ansari, 1994). The effects of this include reduction of effective teaching hours, poor modeling to the children, lack of discipline and supervision of students which adversely affects learning conditions, a deterioration in teaching ethics, and a lack of professionalism among teachers. School administrators have not effectively dealt with this major problem. "No work, no pay" could be instituted as a disincentive for blatant absenteeism. Social recognition, promotions, and financial incentives could be used to reward good teachers.

A major goal of the FSM National Education Department is to certify all teachers. The 1995 Annual Report from the Education Department indicates that 51 percent of all FSM teachers have an Associates of Arts degree (indicating completion of a two-year college program) while another 14 percent hold a Bachelors degree. Thirty-four percent of teachers have no degree, but this figure is down from the 45 percent reported four years earlier (Ansari, 1994).

This progress in certification, as desirable as it might be, will not lead to improvement in student learning unless teachers perform professionally. School administrators sometimes show a lack of ability or will to demand professional performance from teachers. Presently teachers are being paid above average salaries in comparison with other government employees with comparable education and work experience. Some attribute mediocre performance to the common view of teaching as no more than a stepping stone on the way to a better paying government job.

Finance and Maintenance

In 1993 the per pupil expenditures on education did not vary much from state to state, as Table 6.7 indicates. Per pupil expenditures ranged from a high of $898 in Yap to a low of $767 in Chuuk. Educational funds came from the government's operations budget and US federal program funds used to supplement the operational budget. The variations in per pupil expenditures are due to differences in teacher-student ratios, pay level variations, differences in subsidy levels, and the ability to save funds through community participation.

Chuuk has by far the largest school system of all four states. A look at Chuuk's system is indicative of the serious problems that exist. Of the total expenditure, 87 percent was spent on personnel. Less than $1 per student monthly was spent on educational supplies and materials, and less than 30 cents per student meal. These are considered inadequate for ensuring a minimum standard of education and nutrition, and points to uneconomic use of resources (Ansari, 1994 ).

Table 6.7: Government Expenditures on Education, 1993


Total Expenditure

State Funds

Federal Funds

Total Per Pupil Expenditure


















Source: Deloitte & Touche, State audits, 1993.

At least 50 percent of Chuuk's schools are rated in poor condition and in need of repair and maintenance. The State has not put in its matching share in order to qualify for US funding to carry out repair work. Deterioration of school facilities adversely affects learning environments in addition to being a waste of investments that have already been made in school facilities. Another problem is the building of schools on private lands which later do not have their land leases renewed, leading to the abandonment of school buildings. Community support for repair and construction of classrooms has been difficult to mobilize for schools located on private lands.

School facilities in Yap were found to be much better maintained than in any other state. Perpetual surpluses were found in Yap's DOE budget, helping to account for its better facilities and availability of teachers and schools. A good level of cooperation exists between the DOE and the community/parents in maintenance and repair of school facilities with donations of labor and materials coming from the community. School Boards are considered to be functioning effectively there. Still, the quality of education in Yap is suffering, despite its higher investment per student per year ($193) in supplies, materials and other support services, in comparison to the other states.

Kosrae's level of educational funding and its allocations for non-salary expenditures appear adequate to sustain a satisfactory quality of education. Additionally the island has a comparative advantage geographically in that it does not have to deliver services to remote islands like the other states. The HRD Study therefore recommended concentrating on improving the quality of teaching as well as raising the teacher/student ratio in order to improve cost efficiency.

Overlapping Responsibilities

Education in the FSM is the joint responsibility of the FSM National Department of Education and State governments. The FSM constitution concurrently empowers both levels of government to promote educational activities. Established in about 1992, the National DOE's role has been limited to disbursement of federal and other scholarship funds, rather than providing direction to the states. It has no authority to effectively regulate and coordinate programs. It is difficult to define the respective responsibilities of the national and state education departments.

The overlapping educational responsibilities of state and national governments that are inherent in the system have lead to lack of coordination, duplication of efforts, and waste of resources. Examples cited in the HRD Study include allocations made by FSM Congress for a school which has been closed for years due to a land dispute and for which there has never been a replacement; overlapping responsibility for repair and maintenance of schools at the national, state and municipal levels; and disappearance of money that was allocated for construction of a school that never got completed.

The Purpose of Education?

What are students being prepared for by going to school? Are young people prepared when they graduate from high school either to enter college or the work force, in FSM or overseas?

Title 40 of the FSM Code states that the policy of the FSM is to provide for a decentralized educational system which "shall enable FSM citizens to participate fully in the development of the islands as well as to become familiar with the Pacific community and the world." The purposes of education in FSM shall be to "develop its citizens in order to prepare them for participation in self-government and economic and social development; to function as a unifying agent; to bring to people a knowledge of their islands, the economy, the government, and the people who inhabit the islands; to preserve Micronesian culture and traditions; to convey essential information concerning health, safety, and protection of the island environment; and to provide its citizens with the social, political, professional and vocational skills required to develop the Nation."

While these officially stated purposes are high-minded, they are extremely broad and all-inclusive. Educational goals and objectives need to be clarified and agreed upon so that limited resources can focus on preserving options for young Micronesians in the future. Micronesians basically have three choices upon completing school: to enter the town job market, return to the village subsistence and semi-subsistence economy, or emigrate in search of jobs outside of FSM. Considering the urgent needs of the nation, it would be wise to focus on realistic educational objectives that will result in a solid general education (eg, local language, English, mathematics, social and natural sciences) that can serve as a stable foundation for more specific skills training programs. This approach combined with budget constraints may mean that public education may have to limit the availability of high school. Nevertheless, the states can preserve the option of getting a high school degree through their GED programs. Private businesses could be encouraged to run short-term training programs to develop specialized skills. Such businesses might be rewarded with a tax break for providing training at their expense.

The So-Called "Brain Drain"

In a study of Chuukese students in the 1970s, about 62 percent of those who attended college completed a program and received a degree of some kind. Also it was found that very few of these graduates chose to reside permanently in other parts of the world. Most found that their college education assured them of a job upon their return home (Hezel, 1979). Thus, there did not appear to be a significant "brain drain" at that time.

In a recent study of migration trends (1990 – 1993) of FSM emigrants who have gone to Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), it was found that the percentage of FSM citizens with college degrees and living in the FSM was higher than the percentages of FSM emigrants with college degrees in Guam or CNMI (See Table 6.3. below).


Table 6.5. Educational Level of FSM Migrants and FSM Residents (cumulative numbers and percentages)

Level Completed FSM Residents
FSM Migrants in CNMI
FSM Migrants in Guam
Total (ages 25-44) 22,655 (100%) 1,406 (100%) 2,032 (100%)
High School Degree 39.5% 58.8% 53.0%
Some College 22.0% 19.1% 26.8%
Associate's Degree or Equivalent 11.6% 3.2% 3.6%
Bachelor's Degree or Equivalent 4.2% 2.5% 1.6%

Source: Adapted from Hezel and Levin, 1996

These numbers confirm that Micronesians with the best degrees and the brightest prospects for employment will likely remain in the FSM and take the best jobs. Those who have left home to take advantage of job markets in Guam and the CNMI have tended to be the unemployed high school graduates lacking the skills or educational attainment to compete for jobs at home. These workers have filled entry-level occupations in Guam and CNMI.

Although it is often assumed that Micronesians will not return once they have gone overseas and obtained a higher education, actual numbers have not supported that assumption. However, a "brain drain" is likely to occur if the FSM economy is unable to offer jobs to its returning college graduates, particularly as US Compact monies dwindle.

Returning Schools to the Local Communities

Education cannot be the job of the government alone. Parents and the community must be responsible for teaching traditional vocational skills and moral values.

Having a school in one's community brings jobs close to home and is a valuable asset to the community's economy. In order to qualify for a school in one's community, certain community supports need to be in place. Local communities have significantly contributed to school construction, repair and maintenance in the past. This support needs to be restored, perhaps with the help of a grant-in-aid from the state, with substantial donation of labor from the local community. The community could provide for the land on which their school is built, paying the lease if necessary out of municipal rather than state funds. Through local educational boards or other recognized groups, the local community could get involved in the selection of its elementary school's principal and teaching staff, assist in choices of curriculum, assist in enforcing the state law requiring school attendance of children aged 6-14, and help to make sure teacher absenteeism is brought under control.

Sharing of the costs of lunch, school transportation and textbooks by parents through a modest tuition fee has been recommended. Parents will likely resent such a requirement, if they do not see corresponding improvements in the quality of schools. By recruiting the help of parents and the community, people will develop a personal investment in the quality of education being provided in the local school.

Where Do We Begin to Change the System?

Overall, education in FSM has been made available to many more of the young, especially females, in the past two or three decades. A much larger percentage of the FSM population now has had at least some high school, if not a high school diploma. On a smaller scale, much the same could be said of college education. While, education is being extended to more of the young today, the quality of the school programs leaves much to be desired, as standardized test results indicate. This gives rise to the concern that FSM needs not just more education, but better education.

How can education be made more effective, relevant, and cost-effective? Instead of expanding educational facilities and programs, the focus needs to be on repairing and improving what already exists. Consolidation of existing facilities would be one cost-saving measure, but there are many others.

In order to improve the calibre of students entering the local college so that COM-FSM's limited resources can be focused on college-level instruction, the quality of primary and secondary education needs to be improved. Effective principals and involved, supportive local communities are key to school improvement.

Principals with good administrative skills, schools located in communities that take an active role in school decision-making and maintenance, reduction of teacher absenteeism, increase in the number of students per teacher where appropriate, privatization of transportation and food service programs are among the system improvements that would result in savings which could be used to raise educational standards.

CHAPTER 7: Health

Historical Background

Infectious diseases, diarrheas and pneumonias are thought to have existed on many Pacific Islands prior to European contact, although the isolation and small size of island populations helped to control the spread of communicable diseases. European contact resulted in epidemics of infectious diseases which continued into the 1900s. After World War II, in the 1950s the US Navy set-up a field hospital in each state staffed by nurses and medical officers who had been trained in Guam and Fiji. These medical professionals were local people who became the backbone of Micronesia's health services.

By the mid-1960s dispensaries in outlying areas began to be built. During 1967 members of the United Nations Mission to the territory were informed that many dispensaries were physically substandard and inadequately supplied and equipped.

In the late 1960s a public health program of the Peace Corps began. Volunteers were sent to various places throughout the Territory to remote locations, facilitating census and statistical information gathering, promoting environmental sanitation (eg, clean drinking water, waste disposal, and control of rats), and improving detection of Hansen's Disease, tuberculosis and other diseases.

In the 1970s and '80s the first post-war hospitals were rebuilt in each of the four FSM states. A centralized, US-style health care system was thus developed which the Micronesian level of economic development could not adequately support without US help, particularly as the population has continued to grow rapidly. As health care costs have continued to increase along with people's expectations of government-sponsored health care, the problem of financing health care grows (Abraham, 1992).

Table 7.1 Number of Dispensaries, 1986 and 1994

  1986 1994
Pohnpei 15 10
Chuuk 57 67
Yap 22 30
Kosrae 0 0

Source: UNFPA 1996
Note: Kosrae is a single island, and the hospital is easily accessible to everyone by car or boat

Present System

In 1994 there were four hospitals and 107 dispensaries throughout FSM (UNFPA, 1996). The health program in each state averaged about 14 percent of the total operations budget and is generally the second or third largest department in both budget and staffing (World Bank, 1993). Funding is slightly under the 17 percent that is recommended by WHO.

In most states people prefer to go to the local hospital for curative care, rather than seek primary health care from a community dispensary which may not be well stocked or staffed adequately. The exception is Yap State where a private US foundation has funded a primary health care project centered on rural and outer island dispensaries. It sought to build community confidence in dispensaries by ensuring adequate staff and supplies and to encourage community responsibility by establishing local boards to direct the dispensaries (Schoeffel, 1993).

US funding made possible the establishment of the Pacific Basin Medical Officers Training Program in Pohnpei in 1987 in order to train Micronesians to serve as physicians in Micronesia. During its 10 years of existence the program has graduated a total of 73 medical officers in a rigorous, five-year training program, resulting in more new Micronesian physicians to help relieve the physician workforce shortage than were produced by any of the previous training programs in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii or the US mainland (Dever, 1994).

The FSM national government is responsible for nationwide coordination of services and technical assistance (including technical assistance to the states for the safe design and maintenance of roads as well as safety education for drivers and pedestrians), while the four state governments are responsible for direct provision of health services and programs and running of the hospitals and dispensaries.

Environmental Health

The states' public health programs help to build and maintain water and sewage systems. Nationwide, very few people-an estimated 21 percent-have access to safe and reliable drinking water (UNFPA 1996). The majority of FSM relies on individual rainwater catchments. In the outer island atolls, groundwater wells are often contaminated due to their poor location near refuse piles, graveyards, or latrines. Excessive use of these wells can result in salt water intrusion, rendering them unfit for human consumption. Central sewage systems which were constructed under US administration for population centers are failing, due to lack of maintenance, causing sewage to be discharged onto roadways and along shorelines. In Pohnpei sewage treatment is inoperational and raw sewage is dumped into a confined bay which is adjacent to the airport and numerous house sites. Poorly treated sewage is routinely dumped into local rivers, and leaky sewage pipes lead to contamination of surface and ground water. With only 39 percent of the population benefiting from adequate solid waste disposal, it is no wonder that diarrheal diseases continue to be major killers of infants and children and show up consistently as a leading cause of illness among people of all ages (UNFPA 1996).

No funds are allocated for landfill maintenance in any state. In Yap the landfill is located uphill and near to the drinking water reservoir. Pohnpei's landfill is spilling into the bay adjacent to the airport. In rural areas it has been an accepted practice to dump trash into the mangrove zone in hopes of creating new land for community use. This practice causes marine pollution, health hazards, and spoils the mangrove area's value as a nursery for fish and edible shellfish. Lagoons are being polluted in all states. Large quantities of litter are commonly scattered along the roadside and coasts (World Bank, 1993 & NEMS, 1993).

Noncommunicable Diseases (NCD)

The contemporary disease profile of FSM reveals an "epidemiological transition" has been taking place, characterized by high rates of infectious diseases and rapidly increasing prevalence of noncommunicable diseases (NCD) as the primary cause of mortality.

NCDs are often called "lifestyle" diseases or "diseases of modernization" which increase as people shift from their traditional subsistence lifestyles in which locally available fresh foods and vegetables are the main diet, to a monetized economy in which imported foods high in sugar, fat, and low in mineral value and protein become readily available. Food was the largest category of FSM imports in 1990 (more than $20 million) with beverages and tobacco the third largest category of imports (Haberkorn, 1995; Schoeffel, 1993).

These diseases of modernization include cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, cancers (more common types in Micronesia include oropharynx, larynx, lung, liver, pancreas, leukemia, breast, and cervix) and non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus. Diabetes prevalence is two to six times higher among groups that have shifted to an urban lifestyle than in those who have maintained a traditional way of life. The highest rate of diabetes in a 1989 survey was found on Kosrae. The incidence of diabetes in the FSM has risen from 14 percent in 1989 to 15.8 percent in 1990. It is difficult to determine actual mortality rates of diabetes, because causes of death are often reported according to the complications of diabetes – kidney disease, blindness, gangrene requiring amputation of limbs, and vascular disease (Scheder, 1989).

Heart disease is a major cause of death in FSM and is associated with risk factors such as obesity, elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels, excessive alcohol and tobacco use, and sedentary lifestyles. The risk factors for "diseases of modernization" are largely known and related to lifestyle changes in diet and exercise. An excessively sedentary lifestyle combined with increased alcohol and tobacco consumption, and poor nutrition all contribute to the epidemic levels of NCD. Traditional root vegetables, once the staple of Micronesians' diets, are being replaced by rice, flour products, and foods high in sugar (eg, soft drinks, pastries). Traditional root vegetables have roughly three times the crude fiber content of refined cereal products. Locally grown fruits and vegetables are generally high in fiber and nutrients and low in calories, while introduced foods tend to be low in fiber and high in calories. Diets high in calories and low in fiber can raise the risk for developing diabetes and diseases of the colon and gall bladder (Haberkorn, 1995 & Scheder, 1989).

"Eat More Local Foods"

Yap has the highest consumption of locally grown staples (such as yams, cassava, taro, breadfruit and bananas) compared to the other states, although consumption of imported staples is also high. The FSM National Department of Human Resources is trying to educate the public about the importance of "eating more local foods." The message is straightforward but translation to action can be complicated.

A generation of Micronesians who ate two meals a day of American food while at school are now themselves parents. Not only have they acquired a taste for these imported foods, they may have also lost many of their traditional food preparation skills and lack awareness of how foods, including imported foods, can be prepared more nutritionally.

As the local women are well aware, imported foods such as rice, instant noodles, canned or packaged foods are much easier to store, prepare and cook than traditional food. Imported foods may also be cheaper. Desire for convenience, economics and time savings has contributed to the decline in traditional foods. There is a significant loss of exercise and physical activity as people discontinue or reduce their cultivating, harvesting and preparing of local foods.

It has been noted that none of the towns in the FSM have large produce markets, as are found in other Pacific Island countries. Several cultural attitudes may be discouraging the selling of local foods. It is considered shameful to be seen selling local food, because this implies that one is so poor that one has to sell something that everyone should already have. Another attitude is that it is shameful to be seen buying local food, as this implies that one has no land on which to grow one's own food. In today's money economy, people may have to move from their outlying ancestral lands to town in order to work and thus not be able to regularly harvest food from their own land. Also in today's quest for convenience, people may prefer to buy local vegetables and fruits to growing their own. Another cultural attitude that could prevent people from selling produce is that they may be using someone else's lands, and customary practice is that they should give some of their harvest to the landowner, rather than financially benefitting themselves.

Sources: "Women in Development," April 1993, and Marjorie Falanruw


Malnutrition has increased. Undernutrition in children is not due to lack of calories but rather lack of proper nutrition. Overcrowded, unsanitary living conditions foster parasites, which are a major contributing factor to malnutrition in young children. Out of a total of 97 cases of nutritional deficiency treated in 1990, 73 were in Chuuk, 19 in Pohnpei, 5 in Yap and 1 in Kosrae. In the following year, more than twice as many cases of undernutrition (189) were reported.

Vitamin A deficiency in children is prevalent, particularly in Chuuk and Pohnpei, and its incidence is among the highest in the world. It is associated with night blindness, can cause complete blindness, and is believed to contribute to otitis media (middle ear inflammation) in children. It is estimated that the incidence of Vitamin A deficiency has increased from 6.4 percent in 1989 to 17.6 percent in 1991. Contributing to malnutrition in infants is the replacement of breastfeeding with infant formulas. Infants being breastfed are also being weaned at earlier ages. (SPEHIS, 1994; Scheder, 1989; Schoeffel, 1993).

Overnutrition in adults leading to obesity is due to improper diet and sedentary lifestyle, adding to the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. Medical researchers suggest that a "thrifty gene syndrome" may be operating among indigenous Pacific Islanders. In the past these people relied upon food that was seasonally scarce, and periodic famines often occurred after storms and other natural disasters. Consequently, islanders genetically adapted to famine by developing an ability to store body fat rapidly. While this may have served them well in earlier times, it can predispose them to obesity as they shift to consistently available, processed, high caloric foods (Schoeffel, 1993).

Dental caries among children three to five years old were found to be three times that of the US mainland. Imported foods high in sugar and inadequate oral hygiene can be blamed for the high incidence of dental disease among people of all ages (UH School of Public Health, 1989).

Infectious Diseases

Urbanization has increased the probability of infections becoming epidemic due to crowded conditions, improper food storage, contaminated water supplies and poor hygiene. Reported deaths from pneumonia doubled from 1986 through 1989. Children and the elderly are especially at high risk for pneumonia, tuberculosis, and influenza which were less communicable when island populations were more scattered and isolated. Conjunctivitis ("pink eye") is a common affliction and is easily spread (UH School of Public Health, 1989; Abraham, 1992). Waterborne diseases are a leading cause of illness in FSM. Fecal coliform contamination is common due to the lack of safe drinking water in most areas (World Bank, 1993). Cholera epidemics occurred in Chuuk in 1982 and 1983, made worse by inadequate public sanitation and drought conditions.

Tuberculosis is making a comeback worldwide. TB is widespread in FSM but as yet no preventive immunization program exists. While tuberculosis incidence has been decreasing, its prevalence continues to be much higher than in the US. (Haberkorn, 1995; Abraham, 1992).

Hansen's Disease incidence is low in FSM, but consistent monitoring is necessary to prevent an increase. Prevalence of Hansen's Disease (leprosy) in Chuuk increased by 200 percent between 1978 and 1982 (Scheder, 1989).

While only two confirmed cases of HIV/AIDS in FSM were reported in 1994, both cases contracted their disease while overseas. As people migrate in and out of FSM, and as tourism continues to grow as an industry, the probability of increased exposure to this deadly virus grows.

Behavioral Risks and Mental Health

Modernization has brought other health and social problems. Unhealthy behaviors put people more at risk for disabilities and diseases and put their families and communities more at risk socially and economically.

Mental health problems are thought to be increasing as people cope (or fail to cope) with the dramatic cultural and social changes occurring, but the prevalence estimates are unreliable due to inadequate reporting procedures, lack of qualified professionals to diagnose mental illness, and the tendency to keep the mentally ill close to their home villages and under the care of relatives. Males show symptoms of serious mental illness four times more frequently than females (Hezel, 1988).

Micronesians have been able to legally drink alcoholic beverages in modern times for slightly over 30 years. In that comparatively short time, the social problems associated with alcohol abuse have developed. Micronesian men are drinking more than the women. Problems with domestic violence, fighting and general public disruption, crimes committed while drunk, disabilities and injuries resulting from drunk driving, and loss of productivity on the job and in the family have serious social and economic consequences. Chronic heavy drinking and binge drinking can result in disease or premature death as many NCDs are known to be associated with excessive alcohol consumption. These diseases include heart disease, hypertension, stroke, cancer, liver diseases, and non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (Marshall, 1993).

Recent research has shown that a much higher proportion of Pacific Islanders smoke tobacco than persons in developed countries and many other developing countries. One study in 1978 found cigarette smoking almost universal in Ifaluk and Ulithi (Yap State outer islands) with an average consumption of a pack a day. Tobacco smoking is associated with heart disease and serious respiratory illnesses such as lung cancer, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Respiratory diseases are a major killer in Micronesia. Tobacco use can also combine with alcohol use to raise the risks that the person will develop heart disease or suffer a stroke. Few Micronesians smoked manufactured cigarettes before the 1960s. Now that people have had 20-25 years of chronic cigarette use, smoking-related morbidity and mortality will probably begin to show up in health statistics (Marshall, 1993).

A Generation of Smokers

Notable among adults on Pohnpei who are in their early to mid-50s, is the high number of cigarette smokers. This is particularly true among those with high school educations. Why is that?

When these individuals were attending (and many boarding at) the intermediate school on Pohnpei, in the late 1950s to early '60s, the US government provided surplus military rations to the school as part of an aid package. According to former students, these military rations comprised their principle diet. In those days, military rations contained a small quantity of cigarettes which proved to be a curious, fascinating novelty to the young, adolescent students. Starting as something to do "for fun," it did not take long for addiction to set in, often resulting in a lifelong habit that no doubt has lead to serious health consequences.

Limited studies have been done on marijuana and other illegal drug use in Micronesia. It appears that marijuana use has been growing since the 1960s and '70s, particularly among young people. Marijuana smoke contains about 50 percent more cancer-causing hydrocarbons than does tobacco smoke, and recent research shows that marijuana produces a net four times greater burden on the respiratory system. Structural changes to the smoker's lungs, made worse with tobacco smoking, can increase the risk of developing lung cancer and chronic obstructive lung disease (Marshall, 1993).

There are suspected health risks in betel nut chewing that will require further study to confirm. The combination of lime and/or tobacco with betel nut chewing may pose a risk to developing certain oral/throat cancers (Scheder, 1989).

Shown in statistics as "external causes" of death are accidents, suicides, and deaths primarily associated with alcohol and substance abuse. External causes were responsible for 16 percent of all deaths in FSM in 1980. Young adult males are more represented than women in this category. Motor vehicle accidents (often associated with drunk driving) are a major cause of death among young men. The suicide rate in Chuuk was found to be ten times the US rate, increasing 6 times since 1960 (Scheder, 1989). Affecting primarily young adult males, the male suicide rate was found to be 11 times greater than the female rate. Alcohol was typically involved with suicide. In Micronesia, "Young people drink in order to die as well as die because they drink." (Hezel, 1984).

The costs to society of excessive alcohol and tobacco use are indeed great. Not only is it a strain on the health care system to take care of people who have developed lifestyle diseases such as emphysema, cancer, diabetes and heart disease, there are increased costs to police, judicial, and social service systems, and severe hardships for the families involved. Long-term disabilities and death can result from drunk driving, and too often the injuries are to the innocent victims and their families.

Diseases of Modernization are Preventable

What needs to be emphasized is the fact that lifestyle diseases and high-risk behaviors are preventable and controllable. The drinking water supply must be made safe. In order to accomplish that, sewage and trash disposal systems must be improved. Public sanitation needs priority attention. Public education is essential to raise people's awareness of how they can take better care of themselves. As educational, environmental and public health programs result in actual behavior changes, the health of the nation will improve. A health care system that focuses more of its resources on preventive primary health care services can benefit more people than the same amount of resources spent on curative care for a few.

Table 7.2: Leading Causes of Diseases Related Hospital Admissions.




Acute Respiratory disease



Influenza & Flu Syndrome


















Chicken pox (varicella)



TB, Pulmonary illness




Source: FSM Department of Health Services

Health Indicators

Respiratory diseases appear to be the top cause of illness among people of all ages, and waterborne diseases are a leading cause of illness in FSM. The list of leading health problems treated is given in Table 7.2.

Table 7.3 lists the main causes of death in the FSM for 1989. Circulatory system disease, including hypertension and heart attacks, was the leading cause of death in FSM. The second leading cause of death was respiratory system disease which includes pneumonia, influenza, bronchitis, emphysema and asthma. Diabetes is included in the endocrine/metabolic/nutrition category.

Table 7.3: Leading Causes of Death (Mortality) by Selected Disease




Circulatory System Diseases
(Rheumatic heart disease hypertension)



Influenza & Pneumonia






Diabetes, Malnutrition, Vitamin A diseases



Intestinal Infection (Amoebiases, Bacterial)






Perinatal Diseases



Gastroenteritis Diarrheal










Source: FSM Department of Health Services

The infant mortality rate is defined as the number of infant deaths per 1,000 live births in a year. It is considered a good indicator of the quality of health care in a nation, because mortality is high during the first months of life and small improvements in this indice can be measured. 1994 FSM Census data reveal a high infant mortality rate in FSM that should be of great concern to FSM's policy makers and health system. The FSM infant mortality rate of 46 was higher than the average (33) among neighboring Pacific Island nations.

Women experienced high rates of morbidity and mortality as a result of teenage pregnancies, high parity, poor birth spacing, child-bearing complications, malnutrition, and poor or non-existent prenatal care. Of the women attending prenatal clinics only 11 percent of all women made their first visit during the first three months of their pregnancy and nearly 60 percent did not attend the clinics until the last three months (Abraham, 1992).

Table 7.4 Infant Mortality Rates for Pacific Island Nations


Infant mortality rate







Marshall Islands









Source: SPC 1995

Teen pregnancy is reported to be a major problem, but in some states more than others. The rates of birth to single teenage mothers varies from a high of 18 percent on Pohnpei to a low of only 4 percent in

Chuuk, as Table 7.5 indicates. The problem appears to be diminishing, however. Five percent of all teenage women in FSM bore a child in 1994, in comparison to the 7 percent in 1980 and the 9 percent in 1973 who had borne children in those years (FSM OPS 1996a).

Table 7.5 Births to Unmarried Teenage Girls (as percent of all births), 1994







Source: UNFPA 1996

Teen pregnancy is reported to be a major problem, but in some states more than others. The rates of birth to single teenage mothers varies from a high of 18 percent on Pohnpei to a low of only 4 percent in

Chuuk, as Table 7.5 indicates. The problem appears to be diminishing, however. Five percent of all teenage women in FSM bore a child in 1994, in comparison to the 7 percent in 1980 and the 9 percent in 1973 who had borne children in those years (FSM OPS 1996a).

Table 7.6 Incidence of Gonorrhea, 1993 and 1994 (per/10,000)









Marshall Islands







Sources: Pacific Health Dialogue, Vol. 2, No. 2 (1995)

Problems with Health Services

There appears to be extensive agreement on what the major health care problems are:

Reliance upon curative care through a hospital (centralized system) is more costly than a decentralized, preventive health care system. It is felt that significant savings and improved health outcomes would result from a shift away from reliance on hospitals for health care.

Overseas referrals for just a few people are consuming an inordinate share of FSM's health budget, averaging about 25 percent or more of state budgets during 1985-1989. These referrals are paid by government even for well-to-do, powerful families. Referrals are sometimes ill-advised, as in the case of a terminally ill patient, and not always made by a qualified doctor. Referrals can be made by politicians who are not basing their referrals on medical considerations.

Many don't participate in medical insurance. There appears to be little incentive to buy into insurance as long as government heavily subsidizes medical care. The cost of an average outpatient visit is about $3 for people without insurance. Government's current policy not to deny health care due to inability to pay, while admirable, is not helping the health care system to maintain or improve its services. The policy may also be a disincentive for people to take better care of themselves in order to minimize their own health care costs.

Hospitals and many dispensaries are suffering from deteriorating facilities, shortages and delays in essential supplies and drugs, overstocking and understocking of certain drugs due to ineffective tracking systems, and insufficient funds for health facility equipment and maintenance. While this report was being written, in October 1996, Pohnpei hospital's nurses and doctors had not been paid for 2 weeks of work.

The FSM economy cannot continue supporting the health system at its present level. For example, the First Pohnpei Economic Summit in 1995 reported that an average of 5 clients per year receive hemodialysis services in Pohnpei at an average cost of over $150,000 annually. Only $50,000 a year is appropriated by Pohnpei State's legislature for this need. This presents a tremendous burden on Pohnpei's Health Services. Yap State has made the decision that funds for overseas referrals will come from Compact money which steps down to zero by the year 2001. It is a way of putting the pressure on all people to buy into health insurance that covers overseas referrals. This assumes that an affordable health insurance plan can be set-up that will sufficiently cover large overseas expenses. As it is, the National Government Employees' Health Insurance plan which is open only to national and state employees and private businesses covers a maximum of $50,000 for medical referrals

Reducing the Costs of Diabetes

As FSM modernizes, Type II diabetes mellitus (adult onset, generally non-insulin dependent) is becoming more common. Heart disease contributes to 75% – 80 percent of deaths in people with diabetes. Diabetes is often not mentioned on death certificates as a cause of death, although it may be the underlying cause of deaths due to kidney failure, heart disease or stroke.

More likely to develop in people who are overweight and physically inactive, some people have a genetic predisposition to developing this disease. Diabetes can be prevented and controlled. Effective control through diet, exercise and weight management can prevent life-threatening complications.

In a primary health care approach, resources are focused on educating diabetics and their caretakers in how to better manage the disease. People are taught how to monitor their blood sugar levels, given dietary counseling, shown how to respond to their bodies' cues when they are experiencing excessively high or low blood sugar levels, learn the importance of monitoring their cholesterol levels and blood pressure, learn preventive foot care, and encouraged to get regular check-ups. Services might be provided through a combination of homevisits, regular doctor check-ups, and educational support groups.

An analysis of the savings that can be realized through preventive care of diabetes on the US mainland showed that:

1. Diabetic kidney disease requiring dialysis could be reduced by 50 percent through preventive efforts.
2. 90 percent of diabetes-related blindness could be prevented if annual retinal examinations were the standard of care for all diabetics.
3. Blood pressure control was critical, as hypertensive diabetics had a 2 – 3.5 times greater risk of cardiovascular mortality than diabetics with normal blood pressure.
4. Major amputations could be reduced by 50 percent among diabetics who were taught (and practiced) preventive foot care.
5. Hospitalization rates could be reduced by 73 percent among persons with diabetes as a result of primary care, outpatient programs.

Source: Claresa Levetan, MD, and Robert Ratner, MD, "The Economic Bottom Line on Preventive Diabetes Care," Practical Diabetology

Ideas for Improvement

FSM's health care system could be made more cost-effective and accessible by shifting from its current emphasis on centralized, curative care delivered out of hospitals (which is very costly), to an improved, preventive, primary health care system that is delivered out of decentralized, community-run dispensaries. This way health care can be made more accessible to outer islanders and rural residents. Decentralization will require collaboration between national and state governments in implementing major changes. It involves decentralizing decision-making procedures, including the local community in determining what services are most needed, strengthening of middle management, and decentralizing budgetary control. Privatization of security, ambulance, janitorial, kitchen and pharmaceutical services has been suggested as a cost-saving measure.

People would receive most outpatient care at the dispensaries and any hospital visits would require a prior referral through the dispensaries. Direct services staff would need to put more time into outreach activities. Outreach has been identified as a way to improve mental health service delivery. Home visits are often the most effective way to reach those people who are not yet coming in to the established dispensaries or health centers. Health consumer groups could be formed as a means of educating people on specific health topics and helping them to take a more active role in community-based health services. Efforts have been made to initiate early intervention and prevention programs, and although these programs, such as child immunization, have demonstrated their effectiveness, they have received relatively little of the available funding, as illustrated in Table 7.3.

People need to pay more for health services. As it is, money that is collected from patients amount to no more than 10 percent of the total health costs. People appear willing and able to pay more for health care, judging from the willingness of some to go as far as Palau to obtain quality care. One could look at the money people are willing to spend "on ways to destroy themselves" (eg, alcohol and tobacco) and reason that surely they can manage to pay a small monthly premium for health insurance and a larger share of the costs of medical services (Micronesian Seminar, 1994). By paying more for their own health care, people will be more motivated to take care of themselves and not take medical services for granted.

Table 7.7 Government Expenditures on Health Services, 1993


Total Expenditures

State Funds

Federal Funds

Per Person Expenditures

















FSM national government now offers a medical insurance plan for national and state government workers and recently opened this plan to small private businesses. Medical insurance can be helpful in reducing and controlling the financial burden of overseas medical referrals, which is a major liability. In selecting an insurance plan, exclusions and benefit limits are important considerations. For example, the National Government Employees' Health Insurance plan has a number of exclusions, such as "hemodialysis for renal failure secondary to diabetes mellitus…" and "diagnostic and treatment services for congenital deformities and abnormalities." The AFLAC private health insurance plan is available for a small monthly premium to any individual and family. It provides limited coverage and might be helpful should a need for overseas referral arise. There will always be uninsured, underinsured and indigent people whose emergency medical needs will challenge (and burden) the system. More control over overseas referrals by requiring the decision to be made by qualified medical personnel and utilizing Philippine medical centers would be cost-saving.

FSM government needs to resist the temptation to rely on taxes, import duties and licensing fees from alcohol and tobacco as a way to generate more income. This has been a common practice in developing countries, to the detriment of the health of their people. Countries relying on revenues from alcohol and tobacco sales have a vested interest in increasing those sales so as to increase revenues. The costs to society of encouraging alcohol and tobacco consumption by far outweigh the financial gains (Marshall, 1993).

Participation in family planning programs and prenatal clinics needs to be strengthened, as does public education to increase the people's awareness of population issues and the impact overpopulation can have on the quality of life. Concern has been expressed over what appears to be an increase in teen pregnancy. Teenage mothers are more likely to drop out of high school and give birth to infants with low birth weight. Unmarried teenagers may be too embarassed to be seen waiting outside of a family planning clinic at a public hospital. It has been suggested that family planning services might reach more women through better community-based health centers that are staffed by women health workers and open to women who have not yet had at least one child (Schoeffel, 1993).

As long as drinking water is unsafe and unsanitary conditions are widespread due to inadequate solid waste and sewage disposal and management, the people in FSM will be vulnerable to waterborne diseases that can be life-threatening.

Maintaining a healthy environment and healthy personal lifestyles and habits will do more for raising the health status of the nation than pouring more money into the medical service system. The health of a community is the responsibility of the people who live in that community, not just the few health care workers working in that community. People ultimately are responsible for their own health care. These are the essential messages that need to be conveyed as FSM's health care system shifts its emphasis to primary health care.

CHAPTER 8: Employment and Livelihood Opportunities

The Options

Although the cash economy is deeply rooted in FSM by this time, it would be a mistake to underestimate the strength of the subsistence sector. Traditional food production, through fishing and farming, still feed over half of FSM's people today. An exploration of livelihood opportunities for the future, therefore, must take into account the subsistence productivity within FSM that is rarely assigned a monetary value. At the same time, the need of today's FSM citizens for some source of cash income, even if not full time wage employment, must be recognized. Clothing, school fees, and store-bought goods require some disposal cash. Moreover, an ever growing segment of the population aspires to salaried work. Indeed, the unemployment rate (discussed in Chapter 5) is a measure not of desperate need, but of the gap between people's desire for regular wages and the jobs that are now available.

The desire to participate in the money economy is widespread in FSM. Yet, the economic future of the nation is uncertain, given the step down in Compact funds and the approaching end of the Compact period. How will people support themselves in the future? There are three main options: village subsistence, town economy, and emigration.

Village subsistence.
This option means the maintenance of a subsistence livelihood, supplemented by a cash income, largely from gardening, fishing, handicraft fabrication, or raising animals. Sample products include copra, trochus, sakau (kava), betelnut, fish, pigs, poultry, handicrafts, sewn items, etc. This might be referred to as a "village" or "household" economy.

1994 Census figures for those who engage in subsistence, semi-subsistence and those engaged in what the census calls "housework", yields a total number of 32,778, or 55 percent of the total working-aged population. While this number is based on several assumptions, it is certainly indicative of the importance of the subsistence component to local economies. The subsistence economy and its importance will be studied further in an Asian Development Bank project scheduled for 1997.

Much of the history of economic development under the US trusteeship administration was continual attempts to find saleable items that people could produce for a small cash income. Copra was the mainstay of the semi-subsistence economy for decades, but low world market prices have made this so unattractive that little is produced today. Cacao and ramie were planted but failed, as did most of the poultry production projects initiated during the 1970s and 1980s. Trochus was collected for many years, but depleted stocks have forced the government to adopt radical conservation measures. Pepper was tried on Pohnpei and citrus fruits were marketed on Kosrae, while vegetables and fruits were sold to hotels and restaurants on all the high islands. In more recent years, the sale of betelnut on Yap and sakau on Pohnpei have been important sources of income for many people. Meanwhile, the search continues for ways in which the village population in FSM can supplement its subsistence economy with a small cash income.

Town economy.
This option, generally more easily available to those who live in town, entails nearly full dependence on wage employment. The "town economy" encompasses mainly those that are employed full-time. In large, these are the 19,016 persons who were counted as having recently been engaged in "formal work" in the 1994 Census. They comprise 32 percent of the total working-aged population of 59,753 persons. As previously noted, only recently has the number of private sector jobs (9,616), exceeded those in the public sector (9,400). While the private sector jobs are productive, few of them contribute markedly to foreign exchange. They consist of work in wholesale and retail trade, hotels, bars, and restaurants, and other service-oriented activities.

There are many families in which one family member works for wages while the remainder engage in several small to medium-sized businesses such as running a store, raising a cash crop or livestock, making clothes, or operating a taxi.

The Migration Option

Recent studies of migration rates to the most popular destinations – the Territory of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), indicate that the present emigration rate to those destinations is at about one percent a year, and that residents of Chuuk constitute the majority of those migrants, accounting for 72 percent of the total FSM population on Guam. Given its high fertility and unemployment rates, Chuuk is likely to keep its emigration rates up, and possibly even increase them.

It was not always so. In 1980, the size of the FSM community on Guam was estimated at 200-250 persons. Initially, entry was easier into the Northern Marianas, as they shared former Trust-Territory status. Free entry into US and its possessions was given to FSM residents under the 1986 Compact of Free Association.

Although the high rate to Guam and CNMI is motivated economically, there are other factors being considered as well. For one, the work destinations still retain a close proximity to the FSM, allowing emigrants to maintain close contact with families at home, and to even visit on occasion.

The earliest FSM migrants were mainly young males in search of jobs, who formed "peer-group households" characterized by the continuous movement of new arrivals moving in, and others moving out. Over time, some of these have evolved into households more akin to those back home, and are recognized by their generational depth, and increased numbers of dependents.

With emigration has come the economic benefit of remittances, which started out with "in-kind" products, mainly frozen meat and second-hand clothes. They are more recently growing into a significant source of income. The 1994 Census indicates that 3,290 households, or 14.7 percent of all households in FSM, received remittances, which constituted nearly 15 percent of the total income of the household. The income reported was $ 1.26 million, more than 75 percent of which went to Chuuk.

Sources: Hezel and McGrath, 1989; Hezel and Levin, 1996.

Emigration The third option is migration outside the FSM in search of employment and education.

Facilitated by the liberal immigration provisions written into the Compact of Free Association, this is an attractive option to FSM citizens faced with a rising population, increased job competition, and dismal economic conditions at home. They emigrate to find the jobs they cannot find on their home islands.

Table 8.1 Estimated Number of FSM Citizens Living Abroad, 1994

Guam CNMI USA Other Total
6,330 2,420 1,815 660 11,225

Source: 1994 National Census, Hezel & Levin, 1996

An estimated 11,225 FSM citizens, 10.6 percent of the total population of the FSM, live abroad.

FSM is not suffering a "brain drain" through migration. The best educated of FSM citizens, those with college degrees, generally stayed home. Migrants were generally the unemployed high school graduates without skills or education to compete for jobs at home. They took jobs that have little attraction to local people, but also lack the background to advance beyond these entry-level occupations. As such, out-migration serves as a "safety valve" for the FSM, allowing for the release of those unemployable at home (Hezel & Levin, 1996).

Table 8.2 Type of Employment for Age 15 and Over, FSM: 1980 and 1994







Experienced formal work force 15+ years 9,249 19,016 100 100
Agriculture, Forestry and fishing 1,543 1,760 16.7 9.0
Construction 1,010 1,171 10.9 6.2
Gas, electricity, and water supply 178 279 1.9 1.5
Transportation and Communication 325 727 3.5 3.8
Manufacturing 122 656 1.3 3.4
Wholesale and Retail Trade 899 1,395 9.7 7.3
Hotels, Restaurants, and Bars 268 863 2.9 4.5
Finance and Real State 124 362 1.3 1.9
Business/Computer Activity 99 270 1.1 1.4
Health 542 817 5.9 4.3
Education 2,057 3,393 22.2 17.8
Public Administration 1,844 4,699 19.9 24.7
Other Service Activities 238 2,624 2.6 13.8

Sources: FSM Census, 1994; TTPI Census, 1980.
Note: 1980 data refer to persons ages 16 and over.

Creating Jobs

Micronesians have come to expect the creation of jobs to accommodate at least some of the demand for wage labor. The figures in Table 8.2 show that the number of employed persons doubled between 1980 and 1994. (It should be noted that the figures in this table include all who were working for wages for the five years prior to each census. Thus, the 1994 figures include not only the 14,381 who were in the formal work force in 1995, but an additional 4,635 who were working shortly before the census.) Much of the increase in the labor force came from the expansion of jobs in the areas of health, education and public administration-in other words, an increase in government employment. But the private sector, as represented by manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, and hotels, restaurants and bars, also showed appreciable growth. We can assume that many of the private sector jobs were created by the expansion of the government employee pool.

Micronesians are looking for further increases in salaried employment in the years ahead. Yet, jobs are scarce and will become more so because of government downsizing (see Chapter 4). Employment for the immediate future will most likely come from within the private sector-an opportunity and a challenge. This growth, if it happens, will most likely boost the "town economy." In an attempt to thin public sector ranks and encourage the formation of local businesses, all five government entities are now offering a Voluntary Early Retirement, or VER, incentive. This allows people to retire with two year's salary, which, hopefully would be used to start them in some private sector business.

Development of the Private Sector

Any expansion of job opportunities in the future will depend on the success in developing the private sector. Ventures such as the village ecotourism project in Yap and the pepper production in Pohnpei will have to be multiplied if the national economy is be strengthened and the people of FSM are to have to the wage employment they crave. Some of these opportunities will depend on the initiative of the people themselves; others will require collaborating with foreigners willing to invest the large capital outlay that bigger industries may require.

The government itself will have to assist by removing some of the obstacles and creating incentives for establishing new businesses in FSM. It can do a great deal to establish a favorable climate for entrepreneurs, local or foreign. Some of what could form its agenda in the future is suggested in the following considerations regarding business development.

Ecotourism in a Village

The Village of Kadai on Yap has started a tour program. For a modest fee, groups are escorted on a traditional stone path which takes them through agroforests, cultivated areas, and forestland and ultimately ends at the village's traditional meeting house. There, tour participants are treated to refreshments (coconut), shown a traditional dance done by village children and young adults and given an opportunity to ask questions abut Yapese culture. There are also demonstrations of betel nut tree climbing and nut chewing, and palm frond weaving.

A considerable number of the village participate. There are two "shifts" of dancers, and guides as well as several weavers, and climbers. This ensures that tours will be adequately staffed, while leaving time for other village and family duties. Training sessions are given to younger people on skills needed in the demonstrations, which has the side benefit of passing on traditional information to the younger generation.

Revenues cover supplies, payment for services done by villagers, facility maintenance and development, and support their overall objectives – cultural preservation, education, and health. Under the education objective, there is even a scholarship fund for village youth. In that local villagers are compensated for their contributions, the project provides village employment and enhances the local economy.

Why is this project successful?

First, the project does not rely on outside influence. Rather, it is community-driven. It was created internally, and from the bottom up. The community is collectively behind the project, and it moves at a pace that is within their comfort level.

Second, progress and impacts are continuously monitored. Situations are not allowed to get out of hand.

Third, the goals of the project are clear, and reflect benefits to the community beyond pure economics. The community sees this as a way to accomplish goals that they have.

Government jobs pay more, and the rates are not necessarily based on performance. While the future expected public sector cutbacks will place more people into the potential private sector job market, the cutbacks will not encourage any salary increases in either sector.

Where can people turn to get assistance in realistically planning and evaluating a potential small business? There are few places. The Community College of Micronesia has a Business Studies Department, but this may not be widely known. In recent years, the University of Hawaii's Pacific Business Center Program has provided and continues to provide technical assistance in the furthering of economic development in the Pacific, and their client list now numbers in the hundreds.

Emphasis on Consumption-Oriented Businesses
Most of the private sector growth has been in businesses that focus on consumption. This is the result of the reversed economic situation, in which the FSM's private sector has evolved to support the public sector. There is not a lot of activity in production-oriented businesses such as manufacturing. While this may be ultimately resolved by market forces, government incentives may also be helpful. Strategies for the future, especially in the light of probable cuts in the public sector, may include diversification and/or exploring export options.

While governments have started privatizing services such as telecommunications and power, there is room for expansion of this practice. Printing, garbage disposal, and even the conduct of certain social programs are opportunities for privatization.

Protection of Local Businesses
Through the use of tools like tariffs and duties on imports, governments could do a lot towards protecting small businesses, especially in their developing stages. Along the same lines, the governments might want to consider incentives for product lines or business areas that it wants to encourage.

Land Tenure
Investors need several kinds of security. One of the main ones is the security of their business' tenure. For instance, commercial leases under present law in several states, are limited to 25 years. This is considered too short a period. Many assessments target land reform as a necessary component to furthering business opportunities. However, such reform needs to be done in such a way that it integrates local customs and practices.

The lack of adequate and reliable power, transportation, water, and telecommunications has been a significant impediment. More recently, there have been improvements in the providing of these elements, but progress is not uniform.

Technical Skills
There is a shortage of trained personnel, especially in managerial and technical skill areas. It is common to have to import skilled expatriate labor to keep a business going. Past reviews point out the need to work with educational institutions to foster appropriate skills among local people.

Access to Credit
It is extremely difficult for small business to get access to credit. Many of the banks have high collateral requirements that local borrowers cannot meet. This is largely a consequence of the generally poor record of repayment within this class of business. There is a suggestion outstanding to remove or ease interest-rate restrictions, in the hope that financial institutions may then impose higher loan interest rates to cover additional loan oversight costs, but relax their collateral requirements. Another alternative for those unable to get credit on their own is to link up with a foreign investor. However, this can be a long and difficult process.

Regulatory Framework
The review and approval process for foreign investment is cumbersome and convoluted, a disincentive for potential investors. Legislation to make this process more "investor-friendly" is pending, but not yet acted on.


Pohnpei is, according to one expatriate consultant, "The island God would design if He wanted to create the perfect place to grow pepper."

The product has attracted international attention as a gourmet spice, and is often mentioned when topics like agriculture, exports, diversification, and niche markets are discussed. In 1994, pepper exports were $ 95,300.

>Pepper has had a checkered past. Attempts to process and market the pepper have not been successful – cooperatives did not work, and product quality and quantities have not been consistent. Most recently, Pohnpei State's Agricultural office took up the challenge, attempting to process and market a consistent product. They bought pepper from the farmers for spot cash, and assumed responsibility for the rest of the process. Unfortunately, they were not able to market all of the product they collected, and ended up with a surplus. The project closed down in a short time.

Today, there is only one private firm that still processes and markets Pohnpei pepper. One other individual is said to be starting up a business, with an eye towards Asian markets.

Pepper has been in both sectors – the public and private – but its true place in Micronesian trade is yet to be determined.

A Shift in Attitude

Expanding the private sector to create new jobs will also require an adjustment in attitude on the part of the people and government alike.

Success is a government job
There is still a prevalent feeling that being successful equates to having a government job. Unlike most private sector jobs, a government employee enjoys a high level of security, a good salary, and valuable health and retirement benefits. In not narrowing the gap between public and private working situations, the governments keep the private sector at a disadvantage in attracting workers.

Quick profits
There is the desire for instant profits. People expect to make a great deal of money very quickly. Smaller profits over a longer time are not as attractive.

Here today, gone tomorrow
Micronesians, being so strongly rooted in a subsistence economy, are used to perceiving work as an occasional activity, something to be done when money is needed. When villagers need cash, they are used to making copra or collecting trochus. When they have what they need, they stop those activities. Recent experiences between hotels and stores who need a steady and consistent supply of goods, and vegetable providers, who had other priorities, bear this out. Profits are commonly spent, rather than being reinvested. This attitude affects not only the supply of goods, but work conduct itself. Absenteeism is commonly high, leading to the use of foreign workers, or the hiring of extra personnel. The latter solution, while helping the unemployment statistics, usually also means that employees are hired at lower wages. There are more employees, and the employer's salary allocation must be spread over more people.

An equal share for all
Perhaps one of the most significant impediments to private enterprise is what has been referred to as "Island Thinking," the cultural imperative that sets out that profits or windfalls must be distributed equally. This was shown in the 1976 distribution of typhoon relief in Chuuk State, where three islands suffered damage, but all eight islands got an equal share of the relief monies. Likewise, when the FSM allocates money, it may be that the funding eventually ends up as equal shares to a family in a district for the purchase of materials for that household. The thought is that it is better to have everyone share in the benefit, rather than put the funds into a few projects, regardless of their merit or promise of public benefit.

Salary as guaranteed income
The above attitude extends into job management as well. Government funds can be considered as income to families in the form of salaries, rather than as a resource to be used for the overall public good. Similarly, when there are cutbacks, the perception is that the impact should be felt and shared by all employees. The result is that, rather than cut back to a lower number of people getting a good wage, they will keep on more employees at reduced wages for all. Employment in and of itself seems to be the paramount objective, and does not factor in a person's value or dispensability. Thus, salaries and employment are the very last thing to be reduced, even if, by keeping more employees hired, there is no remaining money with which to do anything (Hezel, 1996a).

It is into this context that the present and upcoming government financial cutbacks appear. That there will be cutbacks is an inescapable conclusion, but one made more difficult because of island thinking. Its effective implementation will hinge on the ability of the people to accept a new paradigm and to realize that cutbacks are inevitable, and that there will be, after a period of adjustment, a resulting benefit. As more workers are freed from government service, they are just that more available to the development of the private sector.

CHAPTER 9: Use of Natural Resources

As the FSM moves towards decreasing external aid and the search for revenue replacements intensifies, the nation must assess the potential of its own resources to make up the difference. As previously noted, the primary industries under consideration are fisheries, tourism, and agriculture. All three are closely linked to – and dependent on – the country's natural resources.

A report on the State of the Environment, prepared in 1992 indicated that:

  • The natural resource environment is in fairly good shape, but significant problems are emerging and intensifying.
  • The information base and monitoring capabilities for natural resources are incomplete and dated.
  • There is a need for a more coordinated and cooperative approach to environmental planning and management.

There are numerous threats to the integrity of the natural resources. Some of the more prominent are: conversion of forest land for crop growing, increased human settlement, road construction and other development, exotic species invasions, and pollution.

Throughout the FSM, much of the natural forest land has been replaced by secondary vegetation and agriculture. Increasing populations put increasing pressures on their resources. One of the most extreme alterations is reflected in Chuuk, where the largest piece of native forest remaining in Chuuk State is a 68 hectare patch on Tol Island (USFWS, 1984).

As is the case in other nations, there are numerous examples of poor resource use and exploitation, indicative of the short-term focus of immediate gain without due consideration for the sustainability of the resource. Reefs have been dynamited, fish poisoned. There has been siltation of reefs and harbors as a consequence of increased erosion and runoff from construction such as road building. The indiscriminate use of fire on certain islands has exposed large areas to soil losses through the effects of erosion. Mangrove have been harvested, or filled in for development. Dredging and sand mining have significantly damaged local marine habitats. Native forests are being cleared for cash crops. Development considerations are also becoming more prevalent. The development of tourist resorts, golf courses, new airports, and factories are all under consideration.

Littering and solid refuse disposal is increasing, being complicated by new synthetic materials that do not break down. Pollutants, refuse leakage and hazardous wastes are disposed of inappropriately, and are contaminating land, reefs and water supplies. The main Pohnpei landfill is leaching residue into the adjacent lagoon, while byproducts from the one on Yap threaten Colonia Town's main water reservoir.

Land clearing is not well regulated (Harding, 1992). Especially on small islands with high rainfalls, poor engineering or exposed soils are especially dangerous situations. Mangroves are increasingly being targeted as areas for development. In that they serve critical filtering and marine nursery functions, their loss can have grave impacts both inland and seaward of their location.

An increasing problem has been the invasion of the upland forest areas of Pohnpei by growers of sakau (kava). These semi-subsistence growers are finding an increasingly receptive market for its commercial sale. Attracted by rapid growth rates and the security offered by remote conditions, farmers are increasingly going further into the native forests and clearing planting areas for sakau. However, such clearing has had considerable environmental impact, opening up areas to erosion and runoff, creating landslides, changing vegetative cover, and threatening the integrity of the island's watersheds and reefs. It is a classic example of sacrificing a resource for short-term gain. While sakau cannot be blamed for all of the island's changes, it is startling to note that, between 1975 and 1996, the area of intact forest area on Pohnpei was reduced from 42 percent of the island's total area to only 15 percent (PWMPT, 1996 ).

Community-Based Watershed Management


The process started in 1987, with the establishment of the Pohnpei Watershed and Mangrove Protection Act. This was the first legislation of its kind in the FSM. However, enforcement of the legislation was not attainable due to poor public understanding and support, and it took until 1990 and the establishment of the Watershed Steering Committee, for progress to be made. The Committee, comprised of a multi-agency staff and supported by the USDA Forest Service, the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme, and The Nature Conservancy, launched a successful watershed education program into local communities. The result was the communities requesting more input into the management of their forest resources and the inclusion of their traditional leaders into the process.

In 1994, energized by a two-year technical assistance grant from the Asian Development Bank to The Nature Conservancy to develop an integrated watershed management plan, the government formed a local Community Planning Team and trained them in Participatory Rural Appraisal techniques, with assistance from the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme.

The Team conducted a series of pilot programs in five communities, with the result being that several of those communities formed local management teams that help to monitor and oversee the management of their community's forest areas.

Thanks to the project, the communities have become informed and ultimately gained ownership in the management of their own resources. Further, it has been done in a way that integrates the elements of traditional leadership.

Other communities are aware of the process and are now requesting the same opportunities. The process has been so accepted, that it is now being considered to manage other community issues.

The project demonstrates two points: First, that multiple agencies, government, private, and NGOs, can work positively and meaningfully together. Second, it shows that resource management can be very successful with the involvement and commitment of local communities.

Unfortunately, government jurisdiction over land use and development only applies to government lands. The issue is often further clouded by ownership disputes between various levels of government, and even between governments and private landowners. Traditional land rights also intervene to make regulation and enforcement difficult. National and state governments, then, have very limited authorities over land development, which poses a major obstacle towards planning and enforcement of environmental regulations (Harding, 1992).

A presidential Task Force on Environmental Management and Sustainable Development was established in 1991. This body, with other state and regional organizations, formulated the first Nationwide Environmental Management Strategies (NEMS) in 1993. The NEMS identified four broad objectives:

  • Integrate environmental considerations in economic development
  • Improve environmental awareness and education
  • Manage and protect natural resources
  • Improve waste management pollution and control

To further these objectives, NEMS advanced 18 strategies, with follow-on plans of action for each. While the NEMS has been endorsed by the President, it is subject to funding constraints.

While the NEMS was created in 1993, and it is being used as a guide, particularly at the state levels. Given that conditions and situations have changed since its establishment, it may be appropriate to consider a review of the strategies, with emphasis on implementation.

Vulnerability of Environmental Systems and SHD

In the past, natural processes supported the population in a self-reliant subsistence lifestyle that was relatively ecologically balanced. People were more intimately linked to the environmental consequences of their actions. However, recent economic and social changes have created opportunities for the creation of waste and pollutants, unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, and profound environmental changes. The influences of change encompass all natural communities in the region, from the inland mountains, to the lowlands, the mangroves, the lagoons, and the fringing reefs.

Present governmental systems to oversee environmental issues are impeded by weak authorities, overlap of responsibilities by agencies, and the tendency to treat the environment as a public health issue.

In response to concerns, the FSM has formulating their Nationwide Environmental Management Strategies. The implementation of those strategies will go a long ways towards addressing environmental issues.

CHAPTER 10: The New Social Order

The environmental and economic issues that FSM faces today cannot be addressed adequately without giving serious attention to the sociocultural changes that are also occurring. Any formula for economic development must look to the institutions that will be responsible for implementing proposed changes. Hence, the new forms of family and community that are emerging in Micronesia are of great importance for development. They are important in their own right if the nation is to look to Sustainable Human Development. But they are also key factors in carrying out any economic policies that the government might endorse.

The Family

The Micronesian family today, as we have seen in Chapter Two, has been moving rapidly toward a Western-style nuclear family under the impact of the money economy. In most parts of Micronesia the form of the traditional extended family–the lineage or other group–is still recognized as important, but it no longer plays the same enormous role that it once did. Lineages celebrate together important events like marriages and funerals, and they assemble for occasional feasts. Yet, the extended family group does not exercise nearly as great an influence over its members on a daily basis as it once did.

While this change may be liberating people from the strong social controls under which they were once required to live their lives, it has also weakened many of the supports upon which they depended. It leaves people, children and women included, freer but less protected.

As the biological parents assume more direct control over their children, young people can not as easily turn to some other member of their extended family for guidance or advice, or to intervene when they are being mistreated by their parents. The maternal uncle, who once provided balance and stability in child rearing, is no longer a significant presence in most families. The "canoe" of the family, if we can return to this old image, has lost the feature that once gave it balance.

Without the support system of the extended family, the young man is left to navigate the often difficult relationship between him and his father alone. The high suicide rate in FSM, which began increasing in the late 1960s and continues to the present, attests to the frequent failure of young men to do so (Hezel, Rubinstein & White, 1985). Severe beatings of children also seem to have become more common today, as is suggested by a study of child abuse and neglect conducted by the Micronesian Seminar (Marcus, 1991).

Women, too, are being left to the mercy of their husbands, since their brothers and other blood relatives often do not whisk them away from being beaten as they would have in years gone by. Many a woman's male kin are now saying that the quarrels leading to such beatings "must be worked out within the family." Thus, they no longer take an active role in protecting their kinswomen in such circumstances.

New Solutions to Old Problems

Stripped of the resources that it once possessed, the family today is forced to turn to other institutions to provide for much of what it once was able to handle by itself. If a teenager gets drunk and begins breaking the furniture and windows in his home, the family may call the police for assistance. If a child is being mistreated by his stepfather, his natural mother may seek the outside help rather than take the matter to her older brother. Now that the extended family is well on its way to being cut down to nuclear size, people often feel that they have no choice but to appeal to community institutions for help in carrying out what the traditional family once did for itself.

In the past, parents who were leaving home could easily find caretakers for their children in their extended family network. Grandparents, aunts and uncles would naturally step in to act as surrogate parents until the couple returned. Today there are more and more children who are left on their own, without proper supervision, even for extended periods of time. Not long ago, a father who was left with the custody of his four children, ranging from 8 to 15 years of age, went off island to visit his relatives in another state. He gave his oldest son, a high school student, $75 and told him to take care of the family until he returned a month later. His son, who had already been having discipline problems in school, was unequal to this responsibility. He spent the money on alcohol, was caught drinking with his friends on the school campus, and was suspended from school for this infraction. Meanwhile, the younger children in the family were left to fend for themselves and had to beg from door to door to get enough to eat. When school authorities found out what was going on, they tried to help but they do not have the resources to treat social welfare problems like this.

Without the safety net that the extended family once provided, people are in need of new social services. The response of the government has been to try to find the funding, usually through US Federal grant money, to open welfare offices to respond to these needs. There is an FSM child abuse/neglect program at the national and state levels, an alcohol and substance abuse treatment program, a suicide intervention center, and many other programs that seek to respond to these needs. There are new shingles hung out all over town, but Micronesians remain reluctant to speak to strangers about their intimate problems, especially ones concerning their family. Despite the good will of those running these offices, then, the programs catch only a very small percentage of the social problems.

If Sustainable Human Development looks to improved quality of life, a great part of which is social, serious efforts will have to be made to provide more effective ways of repairing the safety net. Monetization was responsible for changing the shape of the family; money alone will not repair the damage that has been done. The population will have to decide what measures must be taken to restore the quality of family life under the new changes and to ensure that no one is left without assistance.

The Community

The community, like the family, has been fragmented by the changes of recent years. In the early post-war years traditional village and sectional chiefs were still recognized as the main authorities in community affairs. In most places they adjudicated disputes, were responsible for maintaining the peace, and initiated or approved community projects. In the elections held during these early years at the insistence of the US administration, the chiefs or their handpicked representatives were chosen to fill the local elected positions. In time, however, traditional chiefs lost much of their control over the new elected offices and a parallel political system developed, with grants-in-aid and other monies channeled through the elected magistrates.

Village and sectional chiefs are still widely respected today, but they do not have access to government funds for development projects. Likewise, with the establishment of municipal courts, they have lost some of their hold over dispute settlement and other community affairs. They can no longer be relied on to initiate community projects or to oversee the general welfare of the community as they once could.

In Yap, where the authority of village chiefs remains strong, social control is weakest at the village boundaries. Some of the roads are now treated as no-man's land; it is at these spots, interstices in the traditional authority network, that violence is most likely to occur. In the other states, people have come to depend almost entirely on the police force to maintain public order and to deal with offenders.

Mounting Community Projects

Some years ago the paramount chief of Net, one of the districts of Pohnpei, initiated a campaign to have his people do farming. He urged his people to begin garden plots on their land and to fence in their pigs so that they would not damage the crops. Under his leadership, people began growing garden crops everywhere in the district. The crops grown were not just the traditional ones of yams and sakau, but vegetables and fruits that were consumed by the households. The surplus was sold at the local markets to provide a small cash income for the families. He drew upon the competitive nature of his people by organizing annual farm fairs at which the biggest and best of the produce was displayed and prizes awarded to the best farmers. Land was well utilized and Net won recognition all over Pohnpei for its efforts. This successful program faded away when the paramount chief died, however.

Today The Nature Conservancy (TNC) leads a multi-agency program to instruct people of Pohnpei on conserving the watershed. Much of its effort has gone into community workshops to warn people of the ecological danger of planting sakau in the highlands where it interferes with the watershed. The project is largely being funded by outside sources, but much of its effect is due to the fact that the Nahnken of Net, the second highest chief in the district, is collaborating with the project in doing the community education work. Traditional chiefs may not be able to run such programs on their own, but they are an invaluable resource in making a program work even today.

Filling the Gaps

There are serious gaps in the new social order left by the retrenchment of the extended family and the decline of authority in traditional community leaders. We need only consider the following examples:

  • A 16-year old unmarried girl delivers a child which she must care for herself. Her mother, who divorced her father long ago and has remarried, is living on an outer island and has her own stepchildren to care for, in any case. She has no close relatives near at hand whom she feels she can ask to care for the child. She has no knowledge of child care and has no one to turn to for advice.
  • A youth in his early 20s has just been arrested for the fifth time. Most of his brushes with the law have been for malicious mischief or assault when he was drunk. His father, a high government official, is often away from home and he has no one from either his mother's or father's family living on island. He clearly needs a firm hand and strict discipline, but he has quit school and spends his time roaming as he pleases.
  • An old feud between two large and prominent families in a village has been touched off again when young people from both families engaged in a brawl one evening. The fight began when one of the boys accused another of moving the boundary marker on a piece of land that has been under dispute between the families for years.

In former times the family and community would have taken care of all these situations. Who is to do so today?

"Let the government handle it," is the most frequent response to such situations today. As social problems come to the fore, they are relegated to a government office established to meet this new need. Frequently funded by a US Federal program, the new office recruits a cadre of employees to begin the search for clientele. Most of the employees work in an office in town, only rarely visiting the outlying areas. Even if they did, they would come in as strangers to attempt to talk with pregnant girls, angry youth, and quarreling families about highly personal matters. Sometimes the office hires people living and working in the local community, but their caseload is usually light and they can easily become demoralized. Neglect of even the small work load they have is often the result.

People in FSM look to the government to solve social problems for the same reasons they do in other nations. The government is perceived as having adequate financial resources to deal with the problems. Besides, once the problem is relegated to the government, we can all turn our attention to other things. The local communities have taken one more item off their agenda and transferred it to the government.

A True Parable:


In the days before Kosrae (then Kusaie) became a sub-district center of Pohnpei, repairs on the road were done by competitive teams organized in each of the villages. They spent a day each week keeping their assigned section of the road in repair, filling in potholes, cutting back the growth alongside the road, and keeping the road passable and clean. Then, in 1971, the people received word that Kosrae was to be an administrative sub-section of Pohnpei District and that the district government would thenceforth maintain all the public roads. Everyone waited for the bulldozers and graders to appear, but shipping delays and mechanical problems with the heavy equipment kept delaying their arrival. In the meantime, the village teams were disbanded, since people lost interest in doing with picks and shovels what large and costly machines could do. After long delays the equipment finally came, but it broke down not long after it was shipped out. And so the roads were worse than they had ever been before.

The attitude that we must all wait until the government acts must be changed. As a result of the social changes described earlier, the communities have all lost some of their former feeling of control over what happens to them. Regeneration of the social institutions that have declined over the past years is one of the priorities in genuine human development within FSM. This need not mean the restoration of those traditional social structures that are beyond resuscitation, but it implies the desire to seek new ways in which the community can again meet its present day needs. If a true goal of human development is empowerment of people through their full participation in community projects, then people should be invited to take responsibility for social problems. The communities themselves must pick up the slack rather than abandon this task to the government.

Who are Most Vulnerable?

It might legitimately be said that development in the FSM has rendered everyone vulnerable, no matter what his age, gender and socio-economic status, as a consequence of the sweeping social changes that it has brought during the past three or four decades.

  • Traditional leaders have suffered a loss of genuine political effectiveness as the modern system has gained power. Their people, on the other hand, are not granted the same favors from them that traditional reciprocity would have required.
  • Women find themselves stripped of some of the traditional roles they once enjoyed, but men, while outwardly in a dominant position, experience the powerlessness of knowing that their family roles have faded and their respect within the family circle is more precarious than ever.
  • Children are raised without many of the supports their elders once had, but their parents are obliged to rear them under much more difficult circumstances and with less help than their own parents enjoyed a generation ago.
  • No one in rural Micronesia goes hungry, apart from those periods following natural disasters, and most village dwellers enjoy more material comforts now than they did 20 years ago. Yet, they suffer in comparison with the new elite, those well-to-do businessmen and government leaders who make good salaries, travel often, and have been able to afford relatively elegant new homes.

There are a few groups that can be called vulnerable in the sense that their upward mobility is more limited than most. Women can be put into this category since, despite the educational gains they have made in the past 30 years, public higher status positions are not open to them for the most part. Even today very few women have attained political leadership or management positions. Even more serious, however, is the loss of traditional roles that women are suffering as the extended family is broken down. This includes the important role of acting as caretakers of the land which they once enjoyed but which is now greatly threatened.

Low caste Yapese and outer island Yapese, like women, were traditionally well protected (although less so today). Yet, they are regarded as "children" and denied access to many key positions in Yapese society.

This having been said, there are a few groups that deserve special mention here for the problems they face in this change-swept society.

Young Males Conventional wisdom suggests that women, in Pacific societies as in the West, are more vulnerable than males. In Micronesia, however, there are indications that suggest the opposite is true. Young women can appear to be domestic servants who are kept on a short leash, but they have some important but less visible advantages over young men. Women have retained their work roles within the family circle and seem to have an easier relationship with their mothers than young men do with their fathers. They appear to be better protected, exhibit more confidence in their place in the family, and suffer less dislocation from their family after marriage.

In the eyes of a foreigner, young males will appear to be pampered by their sisters. Yet, they are shuttled around more easily from residence to residence, and their bonding with their fathers is problematic today. For various reasons, many young men seem to feel unwanted and unimportant within and outside of their family circles. They are certainly more susceptible to the kinds of social problems that draw public attention today. Their suicide rate outnumbers that of women by a ratio of 11 to 1; their measured rate of serious mental illness is four times higher than women; the high school dropout rate of males is higher than females; and young men account for virtually all the serious alcohol abuse and delinquency in the islands. (Hezel, Rubinstein & Wylie, 1985; Micronesian Seminar, 1981).

The Landless In former times it would have been unimaginable for people to be without land. The land and kin system was so vital to life that landless people would have had as much chance of survival as a headless or lungless person. Today, however, they are to be found in small numbers in every state. They can become landless in a number of ways: by being deprived of their land by other family members; by voluntarily leaving their land and emigrating to town, sometimes becoming squatters on public land or on land belonging to another; and by selling their land to pay debts or buy attractive new commodities like a pickup truck.

There are numerous cases of such people today. Often they wander from place to place, staying with relatives or friends until they wear out their welcome and then moving on to someone else. They have no earning capacity at all. If they did, they would buy land and produce food crops for their sustenance or work in town and rent a place.

Those Without Formal Education Those who have not finished at least elementary school have little hope of entering the wage economy. This in itself is not a serious problem, since the majority of FSM citizens are outside the wage economy anyway. More significant is the limited options these people have. Since they are generally not English-speakers and have limited skills, they usually do not emigrate to seek new opportunities outside FSM. Their role within their communities is limited, for they are usually not the most capable and resourceful of their age group. Their participation in and understanding of the events that impinge on their communities is often minimal as well. This is particularly true of younger men and women, whose peers had access to high school and college.

Resources at Hand: The Women's Army

To speak of turning over responsibility to the community is fine in theory, but what community institutions, outside of government-supported ones, can be identified? There are political organizations in some parts of FSM. Based on old village and blood affiliations, they are more than Western-type political parties although their aim is to organize political campaigns and rally support for select candidates. Where these organizations exist, they are almost entirely under the control of men.

The most effective NGOs, on the other hand, seem to be women's groups with a strong interest in community welfare. Chuuk alone has several such groups: Truk Women's Club, a social club for younger women; Club 20, a women's organization that does fund-raising for worthy projects; the 40-60 Club, an organization for retired nurses; and the Red Cross Association. In addition, there are a number of women's church organizations. In Pohnpei there are three women's organizations that draw their membership from younger, professional women: the Pohnpei Women's Federation, the Pohnpei Ladies Club, and the FSM Women Association Network. The first two are mainly concerned with raising financial support for women's education, while the third focuses on networking among women's groups. Yap has two women's groups: Yap Women's Association for Yapese living in town; and the Madrich Women's Association, a parallel group for outer island women living in the settlement on Yap known as Madrich. Although the latter is not a religious organization as such, many of its activities center around the Catholic Church. (Schoeffel, 1993; UNPFA, 1994)

Some of the strongest and most effective of the women's groups are church-based. The United Church of Christ on Kosrae has women's groups at the municipal and island-wide level. Besides assisting in the organization of the church choirs and other religious tasks, the women's groups help run youth groups, provide family services for those who need them, and undertake cleanup and beautification programs around the island. On Pohnpei there are two major church-based women's groups: Lien Alem and Pwihnen Mercedes. Lien Alem, which literally means "Friday Ladies", takes its name from the traditional Friday women's church services conducted in the United Church of Christ. Pwihnen Mercedes, named after the Mercedarian Sisters who ran the old Catholic boarding schools, is open to non-graduates of these schools and has become the Catholic counterpart of Lien Alem. Both organizations engage largely in church service and charity work, but occasionally also sponsor broader community education efforts. Chuuk has an even wider variety of women's church groups: Mwichen Mercedes and Mwichen Maria for Catholics, Fin Anisi for United Church of Christ, and another group for the Evangelical Church.

In surveying the array of community organizations that function at present, we might conclude that the division of labor between men's groups and women's groups is very much honored today. Men's groups, where they exist, seem to be focused rather narrowly on the political life of the community, while women's groups have a much broader range of interests. Many of the most long-lived of these groups are church-based. While the latter may have as their principal goal support for church programs, they often undertake a much broader range of activities, including social services to the needy. The long life and durability of these groups is owing to the strong roots they have in the community and the sense of purpose they draw from the church to which they are affiliated. They are not organizations that depend simply on a group of women with a cause and a set of bylaws but are doomed as the founders retire from the group; the church groups are bigger than this and have far more hope for continuity.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that women's groups, especially but not exclusively women's church groups, represent a tremendous resource for the community that has only been partially tapped. Because the traditional distinctions between men and women's roles are still in force, women are denied access to the most visible and prestigious political roles. There have been no females among the chief executives at the state or national level, and there have been only three or four females ever elected to the state legislatures. Barred from entering the public arena, women have poured their creative energies into other outlets, especially these informal community associations. Although from a modern feminist standpoint this might seem unfair, the community is also enriched by this turn of events. Women's groups must be recognized as the best potential vehicles for social service delivery in the community.

Women Take to the Streets


Now and then Micronesian women shake off tradition to take a more public role on some matter. Often enough, it seems, the issue has to do with alcohol.

In December 1971, the administration in Pohnpei was on the point of reopening the bars when the women went into action. The bars had been closed by executive order four months earlier after two policemen were shot while attempting to break up a drunken brawl outside a bar. More than 150 women, most of them Kosraean and Kapingamarangi, marched on the public roads to protest the reopening. They carried signs saying, "We do not like the importing of liquor because it takes away the lives of our people," as they circled the district courthouse where bar owners were meeting with the licensing board to establish new drinking regulations. Four months later the ladies took to the streets again. Fifty women from town marched to the legislature building to tell the lawmakers that they were counting on them to keep the bars closed. The women prevailed for a time–until the district administrator reopened the bars under pressure from the business community a few months later.

Drinking was getting out of hand in Chuuk when women began their protest in early 1977. Members of a women's church group circulated petitions for the prohibition of alcohol throughout Weno, the main island. They spoke out openly in favor of a drinking ban at the round of meetings held in different villages. They attended public hearings on the municipal resolution to ban alcohol on Weno and encouraged voters on the day of the referendum. Their organizational efforts and strong presence on voting day made a difference, for the prohibition measure was approved by an enormous majority–93% of the vote.

(Marshall and Marshall, Silent Voices Speak, 1990)

Youth Groups

Another valuable resource that Micronesia possesses is its youth groups. Nearly everywhere in FSM there are youth groups, usually under the direction of a slightly older male from the same community. Many of the most successful of these are church groups. Typically a youth group may meet two or three times a week, especially when it is practicing songs, preparing for an athletic contest, or planning a community project. Most of the group's effort is directed at religious activities; competitive church singing is especially popular among these groups. These organizations engage in discussions aimed at personal growth, community service projects such as cleanups, and picnics or other recreational activities. Few church congregations of any size are without their own youth group.


With the nuclearization of the Micronesian family and the loss of traditional community institutions, serious rips have appeared in the social fabric. Much of the delinquency, suicide, child abuse, domestic violence and other social problems could be avoided if the safety net were intact.

The government, which is opening one specialized office after another, is usually expected to provide solutions for these social problems. Often it cannot do so, for people affected by these problems would prefer to go to someone they know and trust, especially when speaking about intimate family matters. Government offices are often far removed from the communities in more than distance.

The local community is better equipped to intervene in such situations. Moreover, the growth of the community's confidence in itself- its empowerment- would be aided if it were to do so. The resources which the local communities possess are clubs and associations, most of them service-oriented and most run by women.

The most fruitful approach would seem to be one that makes use of those tools that society offers. FSM has institutions well rooted in society that could become effective means of delivery of social services. Rather than hoist the banner for or against gender equality, people in FSM and those who seek to assist them might do better to explore and expand the obvious potential of women's groups to provide those social services that the community and family can no longer furnish.

CHAPTER 11: Main Development Issues

The Cruel Dilemma

When confronting the question of development, village people will always sense the specter of future change hanging with a dark and heavy presence over their lives. Whatever arguments might be made in favor of development, it always entails the passage from the familiar and tested to the new and unknown. Most people in most countries, from one historical period to another, probably would have preferred to be left alone to live out their lives surrounded by the familiar.

There is no reason to believe that Micronesia is different from any other traditional society in this respect. Yet, the people of FSM are being told that they must be willing parties to a pattern of development that means inevitable changes for them and their children. The economic future of their island nation depends on their willingness to develop a productive economy that can underwrite the public services they will need in the years ahead, they are told. It is assumed that they have already become habituated to these services and the standard of living that a partially monetized economy has made possible.

Yet, they cannot escape the responsibility of having to make a fundamental choice between preservation of the traditional ways and moving toward a more secure niche in the modern global economy. What some development theorists call "the cruel dilemma" persists. By opting for faster economic growth, people implicitly accept a course that will inevitably lead to great social change in their homeland. Failure to acknowledge this in development planning only compounds the problem by adding "cruel deception" to the "cruel dilemma".

Development and traditional folkways almost always clash, in practice if not in theory. If there are any doubts on this clash, one need only recall the impact of monetization on Micronesia, the effects of which are felt in every sphere of life today. Economic development as it occurred during the last 30 years in Micronesia uprooted venerable structures, forever changed the shape of the family, and altered some of the basic values of island society.

Must development always lead to this kind of upheaval? It will always mean social change of some degree, but the magnitude of the change will depend in great part on the pace of the development program and the strategies employed. Slow-paced change can be absorbed far more easily and with less serious social disruption, especially when accompanied by an understanding of what is happening to the society and why. Emphasis on sustainability in development is helpful not only in looking to environmental needs but in putting the brakes on speedy development projects that might have deleterious social effects. A process of change that proceeds from the grassroots level upward will cushion the inevitable shocks of change and better prepare communities to deal with its social impact. Moreover, anxiety over the future is diminished to the extent that local institutions–community organizations and chiefly authority, for example–are used as the vehicles of change.

In the end, however, there is no painless economic development. All development, even moderately paced and culturally sensitive, comes with a price tag attached. Unless we understand this, we run the risk of failing to adopt appropriate strategies for development goals.

The Response to Development Policy

Identifying the key issues in development is already a half step taken toward resolving them, it is said. Once people are able to name their problems, they are well on the way to thinking them through and determining what must be done to solve them. Sometimes, of course, people don't take the course of action that planners recommend and common sense would seem to dictate. When this happens, it is usually because social or cultural reasons are lurking like shoals just beneath the surface.

Take, for instance, the great reluctance of governments, state and national, to lay off employees when no funds can be found for their salary. To the dismay of expatriate planners, Micronesians persist in viewing government as a source of livelihood for its employees rather than as a provider of necessary services for the public. Rather than cut some less essential positions, and thus deny some employees a paycheck to support their families, decision-makers prefer to cut back everyone a little. Often this takes the form of an across-the-board reduction of work hours–in some cases even retrenchment to a four-day work week–at the expense of critical government services. Government efficiency suffers, but Micronesian decision-makers are looking out for the welfare of everyone and meeting the demands of justice, at least according to their perception.

Coordination of government services is another case in point. Collaboration can mean subordinating offices to one another, or at least infringing on their bureaucratic autonomy. To local people, who are sensitive about overstepping their authority, what seems like a harmless plea for collaboration can be fraught with the risk of being accused of interfering in another's territory, with all the personal issues that might arise from this.

At times implementation of development policy may entail taking a position that is seen as directly opposed to another's interests. When two parties have conflicting claims–as to a piece of land–the usual island strategy is to sit tight and give everyone time to work out the conflict rather than force the issue. The assumption is that, given enough time, the issue will resolve itself (possibly one of the parties will withdraw his claim or die). This strategy operates on many levels today and inhibits the creation of clear and strong policy statements that Westerners look for in nations committed to development. It also prevents people from putting such issues as women's rights in the public forum and debating them.

The point of the previous examples is that there are hidden cultural assumptions governing what steps will and will not be taken to promote development. There is a hidden cost-benefit analysis that guides decisions but which is never openly laid on the table. These assumptions have a legitimacy and logic of their own, although they are rarely acknowledged in the discussions on development.

The Basic Issues in FSM

Throughout the previous ten chapters of this study, a number of issues have been identified within each sector. Rather than review all these, we present here what appear to be the basic or foundational issues related to sustainable human development in the FSM.

  • The monetization of Micronesian societies has fragmented the customary extended family and led to the loss of traditional roles and change in the family authority system. Since there has been no replacement for the roles lost, the present-day roles of family members must be expanded or adapted so as to provide adequate care for all family members.

There is no institution as important to Micronesian life as the family. Yet, it is precisely this key social structure that has been most affected by the changes during the last three decades. The nuclearization of the family in all parts of Micronesia has left people without the social resources that they once possessed to assist in child-rearing and in incorporating young people into the community, with its mind set and values. The diminution of these roles, and the loss of resources accompanying it, have contributed greatly to a number of the social problems that plague the island societies today.

  • Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other social groups, especially church groups, could be much better utilized to provide some of the social services needed to replace what was once provided by extended families and the community.

The nuclearization of the family and the weakening of traditional community structures has left a gap to be filled. The modern government has jumped in to attempt to fill this gap by allocating to government agencies the delivery of social services. Offices multiply and employees increase, but they are unable to provide the oversight and care that is needed on the village, family and personal level. Government is simply too removed from the daily workings of the community to be effective. Local community associations (which could be called NGOs) would serve more effectively since they operate at a grassroots level and know the parties who need help. Probably the best positioned of these groups are church-affiliated organizations (church women's clubs, youth groups), which are still underutilized by the community in providing social services.

  • The complete distinction between male and female roles, which was honored in the past, remains in force even today in the public arena and most other areas of life. In the interests of women as much as men, the gender equality issue should not be forced but left for gradual resolution by the community.

Traditionally men's roles and women's roles were seen as complementing one another in a gender partnership. Women were given important roles, although not highly visible ones. On some islands they were even regarded as custodians of the land. In the past they were protected but confined. Today they are not only denied access to new roles, but their old roles are sometimes challenged by today's males. The question of what position women should have in the "new social order" has been justly raised. Yet, many women seem to feel that the issue should be handled delicately to avoid a gender war.

  • The superimposition of modern political systems on traditional systems has led to the weakening of traditional leadership roles and increased reliance of the community on the modern government. How can traditional leaders be better employed in community development?

Traditional chiefs, it should be noted, do not exist everywhere in Micronesia, nor were their roles the same in those places where they did exist. While traditional chiefs are still honored and respected today, their functions have been curtailed by the development of a parallel authority system, that of the modern government. Elected officials, although not accorded the same respect, command more de facto authority over the direction of development than traditional leaders, if for no other reason than they have better access to development funds. Is there some way that traditional leaders can be brought from the margins to the center of decisions over development? This need not be formal recognition in the modern governmental bureaucracy; it could be in the form of better linkage with the local communities.

  • Present-day leaders, traditional and modern, may not be as accountable to their people today as chiefs and other traditional authorities were in the past. There has been a decline in reciprocity between leadership and common people.

In the past, it was understood that chiefs were to receive respect–often in the form of first fruits and choice portions at feasts–in exchange for the services they performed for the community. It was expected that the chiefs would reserve a portion for themselves and redistribute the rest of these gifts to the community. Today these chiefs continue to receive material signs of respect, but these increasingly take the form of money or goods that cannot be as easily shared. Not only does the present day chief keep much more for himself, but his own service contribution to the community has declined with the advent of the modern political system. All this betokens a growing lack of reciprocity between present day chiefs and their people.

  • The economy of FSM, which still depends mainly on foreign aid and government employment, has to be reversed if the nation is to become self-reliant. The government must be downsized and a healthy productive economy, with a strong private sector, must be established.

The assessments offered by international planners unanimously cite the need to turn the economy around, increasing the size and strength of the productive economy while reducing the size of the government. Only in this way will the nation advance towards self-reliance and reduce its considerable dependence on foreign aid. Yet, this would mean reversing the directions of the past 30 years, during which the private sector was mainly service-oriented and fed off the government salaries. Productivity could be neglected because the economy, with its great infusion of aid from the US, could do without it nicely. As long as FSM had a wealthy patron, there was no urgency about developing a healthy private sector. Now, however, with the end of the 15-year Compact period rapidly approaching, FSM must develop its own springs of wealth.

  • The traditional semi-subsistence economy, which remains an important part of the total national economy today, must be acknowledged as a legitimate option for people in the future.

In the race to develop a solid economy, the nation should not neglect the strong but hidden resource base that is already at work in the form of the semi-subsistence economy. Well over half, and perhaps closer to three-fourths, of the people of FSM provide their own sustenance from the land. Moreover, they are able to provide the relatively small amounts of cash needed to support themselves through cottage industries and cashcropping. This significant sector of the economy must be acknowledged and strengthened in future development plans.

  • There is need for greater involvement of the private sector–businesses, churches, NGOs–in economic and social development now and in the future.

These organizations have the potential to share the government's burden in providing services for the public. Church groups might be encouraged to open new schools and expand existing schools to assist in the task of educating the growing population, while private businesses might offer more job training opportunities at their own expense. Private health care facilities could be expanded to stem the drain on government hospitals and dispensaries. Public utilities might be increasingly privatized in an effort to relieve the government of the expense of providing power and water to the population. As time goes on, the public will need to contribute more towards the costs of education, health care, and public utilities.

  • The rate of population growth in FSM, which has declined sharply in the past decade and will decline further in years to come, remains a concern but no longer a critical issue. While public measures should be continued to keep the growth rate down, the population issue should not distract government from its top prority: economic development.

The fertility rate in FSM has been dropping for over 20 years and will no doubt continue to drop in the years ahead. Meanwhile, emigration has been syphoning off excess population from the most populous states. The adjustment that usually occurs in nations moving toward modernization seems to be occurring in FSM. The most reasonable projections show FSM's population increasing by half its present size in 20 years. While this growth will challenge the nation in development of health, education and other services, the most critical issue today is the building of an economy that supports its present population and a reasonable increase of people in the future.

  • Given the limited resources with which FSM is forced to work, the nation must clearly define the purpose of its education system. Educational goals should be sharpened so that schooling might be done in such a way as to focus on basic objectives that serve to preserve the broad options for young Micronesians in the future.

Even relatively well-endowed schools cannot do everything. This is all the more true of a public education system that operates under severe financial constraints. Vocational education, for all the favorable attention it receives, is expensive and demanding. In view of the fact that young Micronesians face a difficult economic choice between entering the town job market, returning to the village subsistence economy, and out migration in search of jobs elsewhere, the educational goals embraced by the schools should be broad enough to encompass all three possibilities. Yet, they should be specific enough to offer the basic skills needed to launch young people into the future.

  • The present public educational system must be improved if students are to meet the standards that are being set for them. Improvement of what exists is more vital than educational expansion. The government must decide where educational reform should begin.

Although a rather high percentage of high school graduates continue their education at the tertiary level, test scores indicate that most are poorly prepared for college. To accommodate these students, the College of Micronesia-FSM must offer remedial programs aimed at bringing students' reading and math skills to an acceptable level. Although there are "islands of excellence," educational achievement appears to have declined during the last 25 years. The government has dealt with this problem by offering young people access to more years of education rather than fixing what is wrong at the lower levels. Educational reform must begin from the bottom and work up rather than the other way around.

  • Institutions that benefit the local communities and which can be managed at this level could be entrusted to the responsibility of the communities they serve. Elementary schools and local dispensaries and clinics are prime examples of such institutions. Only when they are restored to the care of the community can the local people gain ownership and a sense of responsibility for these systems.

Since the early 1960s, with the centralization of the education and health services systems in the Trust Territory, island communities have been discouraged from taking an active role in providing for their own needs. Since those days the schools and dispensaries have been run from a distance, with minimal input demanded from the communities. Although there are clear indications that many feel this direction should be reversed, few concrete steps have been taken to bring these and other institutions under the control of the communities. Decentralization is not only a financial imperative; it is a move that results in the empowerment of the community.

  • Any major improvements in the health status of the nation can only be made with the full participation of the people themselves. Public education for prevention of illness seems to be a very high priority today.

The immunization programs conducted throughout FSM have had a measurable impact on the health of the young and check against contagious diseases. The most serious health problems today are those associated with a modern lifestyle: diabetes and hypertension. Individuals themselves must be taught to take steps to prevent these diseases, just as they must learn to take sanitary measures to guard against

other types of disease. Hence, an effective public education program is of critical importance today.

  • Opportunities for earning cash must be expanded, in the private sector as well as in the semi-subsistence village economy, even as the government imposes more stringent restrictions on the use of natural resources to insure sustainability.

With the growing population and the increased demand for a cash income, the nation must offer more alternatives for people seeking a livelihood. Even those in the village economy living on locally produced foods need ways to obtain ready cash for other expenses. With the decline in earlier methods of earning money to supplement the income–such as making copra or collecting trochus–many have turned to quick but ecologically destructive methods of earning cash. An example is the growing of sakau on the highlands of Pohnpei, thus endangering the watershed. How does the government maximize earning power for all, yet protect valuable land and sea resources for the future?

  • In the interest of maximizing the use of its scarce land resources, the government will have to begin to impose regulations on the use of private land. This will require a change in attitude toward freedom to use land as the private owners wish.

Land is a valuable but scarce resource in FSM. Wise use of land is imperative if the nation is to develop the productive industries that it hopes for. At the present time, the public's attitude is that the use of private land should be entirely determined by the owner, without any interference from the government. Owner's rights are paramount in this view, even if the common good is hindered by his decision. Land taxes and eminent domain are still generally unacceptable to people, although the shortage of land for business purposes will require strong controls governing the use of land.

  • At all levels–national, state and municipal–governments must better coordinate their efforts in order to reduce waste of money and other resources.

Sometimes the governments work at cross purposes to one another. At other times they merely overlap in their programs. In either case, lack of coordination results in wastage of funds or worse. The problem appears within state jurisdictions and between the states and the national government. As outside funding becomes ever more scarce, it is imperative that the nation look at ways to create savings by avoiding duplicative and uncoordinated efforts.

Approaches to Development

There is more than one path to development, we are often told. The variety of strategies that can be used to implement these goals is even more numerous. At bottom, however, there are a few basic approaches that might be recommended, no matter what development goals are chosen. The three fundamental strategies explained below are of vital importance for insuring human growth as well as for successful implementation.

Community education. Genuine human development implies that people participate in the decisions that will affect their future lives. If this is to happen, they must be educated to understand the various development options with their costs and benefits. Development goals can be proposed, but choices cannot be made by anyone other than the people affected.

Any attempt to short-circuit this process will ultimately be self-defeating, as development planners around the world have learned through their own sad experience. This is just as true in Micronesia, where cultural assumptions that can thoroughly deflate programs abound. The citizens of the FSM, not merely their leaders and planners, will be required to implement the plans. If they are not convinced of their value, the plans will eventually come to nothing.

Local participation hinges on effective community education. People at the grassroots level must be informed on issues affecting them. Much of the background information they need to make effective decisions can be picked up at discussions of the issue.

Ultimately, the most effective form of public education is community discussion of current development issues. This involves a free exchange of ideas between people in the community, regardless whether such exchanges take place as village or church meetings or as informal conversations between a handful of neighbors. Information flow on these topics can be presented via radio, or possibly even TV in some areas.

Partnership. Over the final years of US administration and the early years of FSM self-rule, local people have become accustomed to looking to the government to provide everything–public safety, road repair, power and utilities, health services, and an increasingly expensive array of social services to treat the casualties of their modernized society. In many communities, people have relinquished any responsibility for these and other services and have turned instead to church or other organizations as creative outlets.

If development is to happen, communities must be willing to invest their own resources in projects. While they may not have adequate resources to do the job themselves, their contribution should be encouraged, if for no other reason than to give them a sense of ownership over the project and control over their community affairs.

The grant-in-aid approach that the US administration took during the 1950s and early 1960s, when government budgets were much smaller and funds had to be disbursed with great care, was a better model for development than the approach of later and richer years. The government provided a major share of the funding necessary on condition that the community itself furnish a stipulated amount of the labor and other resources needed for the completion of the project. This may have been closer to a genuine partnership between community and government than anything seen since.

Only approaches of this sort can stem the feelings of disenfranchisement that small communities

commonly feel when they measure their own resources against those of their behemoth government. Moreover, they introduce a spirit of partnership with government and a new sense of participation in creating their own future.

Utilization of local social resources. A development aimed at the growth of people should make maximum use of their resources–not just their ideas but all the social resources the community has at its disposal. Just as development projects that bring in expensive construction equipment but neglect the labor of the local people lose something, so those projects that depend entirely on foreign institutions rather than homegrown ones sacrifice a vital element in human development.

Though this may seem abstract and removed from reality, there are any number of real life illustrations from Micronesia. The ones chosen below show a creative blend of traditional and modern elements to produce a system that has proven its effectiveness.

  • Chuuk:
    In the 1951, one of the municipalities was faced with the problem of raising enough cash to buy shares of stock in Truk Trading Company, the newly founded export-import firm in the district. The island chief appealed to his people many times to invest in the company, but to no avail. After a time he invented a system known as a toochap that contained strong elements of the traditional culture. At a village meeting clans were called up in turn to present an envelope that contained their donation, the contents of which were announced to the assembled village. Then appeals were made to individuals to come up and add to the contributions, with improvised Chuukese songs and dances performed in between these appeals. The toochap was so successful that it became a standard means of raising money for community projects thereafter. (Mahony 1960)
  • Yap:
    During precontact times, Yapese chiefs of high-ranking villages met only occasionally to discuss major problems affecting several villages. Regular meetings were first established by the German governor of Yap in the early 1900's to plan island-wide public works projects and settle inter-village conflicts. During the US administration of the island, the ranking chiefs were organized into a formal council that met to provide advice on development plans and other major issues. Soon a parallel group was formed for the chiefs of the Outer Islands of Yap, the atolls that contain about half of the state's population. The two councils were then convened at regular intervals to provide input from the traditional leaders on matters being considered by the state legislature. The chiefs' councils have become the means by which the voice of the traditional leaders is carried into the workings of the modern government.
  • Kosrae:
    Each of the four villages of Kosrae was organized by the church into two or three competitive work groups. This manner of organization was an echo of the traditional subsectional divisions that existed before the great population decline in the last century, but it was done under the leadership of the United Church of Christ, which became the successor of the ancient political authority system in Kosrae. The groups carried out road repair work, community cleanups, and other village tasks.
  • Pohnpei:
    In the early 1980's, several community leaders recognized that a segment of troubled youth were not being "captured" by service organizations. Young people, mostly young males, were being arrested on minor offenses and detained at the local jail along with adults. There was no other place for them to go and no organization to work with them. This resulted in the creation of "Aramas Kapw", an organization that targeted as its clients the young people who were falling through the net of other youth and social service organizations. With private grant support, the group formed, secured an abandoned warehouse, and developed a residential program that stressed discipline, hard work, confidence building, teamwork, basic job skills, and career counseling. Though the program was modeled on "Outward Bound", it took a local flavor with its emphasis on swimming and floating skills, canoe paddling and Pohnpeian-style talk sessions. As the program's reputation spread, the police began releasing young offenders into the custody of the program rather than have them languish in jail.

Development programs like these utilize traditional systems and structures to meet present-day needs. Not only do they conserve and strengthen elements from the society's past, but they offer a better chance of success over the long run than programs that depend on entirely new systems.

APPENDIX: Human Rights, Pacific Style

Just about everyone, whatever one's creed and ethnic bckground, claims to support justice. How many would ever count themselves as opponents of justice, after all? Then why the strife? We may think that much of the controversy today, especially in what is commonly called the Third World, is over how to get there, what means should be used to achieve this incontestable good. But an even bigger problem may be the idiom, or language, we use to speak about justice.

If we were to ask people in Micronesia, or any other part of the Pacific, to define justice, their definition probably wouldn't be too much different from the response we would get in London, Berlin or New York. Just about everywhere, justice means to ensure that each person gets what he/she deserves.

The problem lies in the clause: "what the person deserves." On Pohnpei, an island in the Federated States of Micronesia, the pigs at feasts and funerals are divided and apportioned according to this formula. Accordingly, the high chief receives the head, second-ranking chiefs the hindquarters, still other chiefs the forequarters, and so on. Each receives his portion of the pig as well as other feast food according to his title. High-titled persons walk away from the feast heavily laden with baskets of food; commoners may leave with nothing–even commoners who donated a pig that might have a market value of several hundred dollars. Is this fair? Pohnpeians think so. So do Tongans, and Samoans, and Fijians, and Marshallese, and Cook Islanders.

What the high chief deserves, in the estimation of island people, is a good cut above what the low-born deserve. In their view, the value of a person is largely determined by his social standing–his niche in society. As in Europe until only two centuries ago, there were those born to rule, those whose destiny was to be nobles or "gentlemen," those whose lives were meant to be spent tilling the soil and waiting upon their betters, and even those whose lot was lifelong servitude.

People in our age can be expected to react strongly to the position that a person's value is somehow dependent upon that person's role in society. Yet this has always been one of the basic assumptions in Pacific societies. A few years ago, when the church in the Kingdom of Tonga rushed to the support of those seeking to democratize a society that had always been staunchly monarchical, many islanders wagged a critical finger at the church charging that the democratic reforms it was supporting were as inapplicable to their island society as mashed potatoes. They accused the church of supporting Western institutions against the traditional order, even though the church had repeatedly gone on record as endorsing inculturation and supporting in principle island ways. Shouldn't the church be prepared to accept Tongan values and institutions, even if they are clearly hierarchical and non-egalitarian?

So the quarrel over justice is substantive, it seems, having to do with who should be given what. The Westerner tends to emphasize the right of every individual to a fair share (often understood to mean "equal" share), while the Pacific Islander expects that each will receive from the bounty of the community according to his status. Pacific Islander and Westerner look at the matter from very different perspectives. The islander sees the rights and responsibilities of a person tied to that person's status in society. The Westerner thinks of all persons as inherently equal and endowed with certain basic rights (like the right to participate in political decision-making) that demand respect. The quarrel has to do with much more than words, but the language gap that has arisen between these parties has only compounded the misunderstanding and added to the confusion.

Westerners come from a recent tradition of human rights. All human persons are endowed with basic rights–the right to decent housing, the right to demand fair compensation for their labor, the right to participate in political decisions, for instance. Everyone from the least to the greatest possesses these inalienable rights. A recent international conference even produced a list of rights of children. We preach this as though it were axiomatic–but it isn't. Not to a Pacific Islander, nor to many an Asian or African.

There was no word for "rights" in the indigenous language of most of these people. In some of the local languages, the English term has been adopted into the vocabulary. The word sometimes draws hisses and snorts from older people, who speak of "rights" as a kind of disease afflicting the young. The very term "rights," in the minds of many older islanders, stands for a selfish individualism and all its attendant evils. It is tantamount to embracing the cause of the single human person over and against the good of the entire society, selfishness versus communitarianism. In the minds of many, the modern advocacy of rights is one of the most pernicious contagions that the West has unleashed on traditional and proud societies: the misguided emphasis on "me" rather than "us."

The adults in Chuuk, a state of the FSM, used to speak with disdain of a philosophy that emphasized what one is entitled to receive (rights) instead of what one is obligated to give (reponsibilities). They saw this as puerile and simply cottoning to the silly tastes of the young, who were already trying to get a better deal for themselves. In their minds, a code of social justice that was built on rights ran the risk of condoning irresponsibility.

A further criticism of "rights" theory often heard is that it is confrontational rather than conciliatory, reflecting Western legal tradition as it does. The rights of one person, after all, are bound to clash with those of another, resulting in adversarial positions that must be adjudicated. In other words, rights theory more often generates an open confrontation rather than the kind of consensus Pacific island societies characteristically try to achieve. The island alternative to this is making known various parties' needs and trying to meet these through consensus.

To summarize, rights language is perceived as inimical to the "Pacific way" because it is seen as:

  • seeking to abolish the legitimate social distinctions in traditional societies in the name of equality;
  • rooted in a radical individualism that strikes at the heart of the communitarian spirit so important in traditional societies;
  • self-seeking in its emphasis on what is due me rather than what I owe others;
  • confrontational in setting up opposing claims rather than conciliatory or consensual in approach.

The language of human rights is a recent Western invention. For most of human history, in the West as everywhere else, society has been regarded as static and hierarchical. The prevailing social ethic in such societies was grounded on the person's duties to society, rather than in what he might expect to receive from others. Any formal rights that individuals possessed were linked to their status rather than to their personhood as such.

With the development of modern Europe emerged individualism. This was partly the outgrowth of the self-consciousness of the Enlightenment, but even more a reaction to the development of the modern nation-state which posed a greater threat to the individual than the ancient society ever did. The new emphasis on individual rights grew out of this milieu.

We can assume that in due time rights theory, like MTV and Western dress styles and the computer, will become an established part of life throughout the world. This could happen in 30 years, or in 10 years, or in 50 years. But the cultural chasm has not yet been crossed. Rights language is still not understood or accepted in most of the Pacific, nor very likely in many other places. And not just by rulers and reactionaries.

Source: Francis X. Hezel, SJ, "The Struggle for Justice–But Under Whose Terms?", talk presented at a Catholic mission conference in Aachen, Germany, November 1, 1996



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