'Somewhere in the South Pacific Sea'- that's the phrase used when one gets lost. I was recently lost somewhere in South Pacific sea. I was part of the thin line of green land that divides the blue sky above and Pacific sea below.
When prayers started at the beginning of the meeting, as per the practices in the region, I was not lost. I was listening carefully to what the priest standing next to me was praying. "We ask the heavenly Father, God, to be with us all in this important meeting. We thank God for bringing the UNEP facilitators to Vanuatu to tell all of us the importance of the Montreal Protocol. We request the help of the spirit from above to guide and provide us better understanding of the Montreal Protocol and to be in its compliance. We ask God to guide us through UNEP resource persons to implement the action plan ahead of us, related to the ODS issues. We thank God for the presence of all stakeholders who are present in the meeting today and may our contribution benefit people, Vanuatu and the entire earth"
The priest was praying on behalf of all the participants just before the start of the stakeholders' workshop. The main task before the meeting was to develop the Road Map to bring Vanuatu -a country of about 80 islands, back to compliance with Montreal Protocol. I was in Port Villa, on the Island of Efate, of Vanuatu not far from two of the world's most powerful tectonic plates, brushing each other under the ocean creating what is known as the Pacific Rim of Fire.
Heads bowed, eyes closed, hands clasped all were standing in silence on that thin green line of volcanic land whose name means 'land of eternity. The truth is that it is really sky and may be the sea that would be eternal, but definitely not the land which is waiting to erupt with exploding fire bombs down below. I had heard similar prayers before the start of the workshops in Bhutan and Samoa. They gave spiritual dimension to the solution to the materialistic problem.
The day before the workshop, quite early in the morning, I was waiting in the Presidential palace. It was a beachside modest complex of the office and the residence of the President of Vanuatu. The President was the Minister of Environment when the Montreal Protocol was signed in 1987. We arrived a little ahead of time and were asked to wait. We were informed that the President was having morning prayers. We were later ushered in his office which did not have air-conditioning. No HCFC was used by the President.
Next day I was in the village of Takara- a geothermal spot on the west of the island. We wanted to have a chat with the chief of the village. His wife asked us to wait as the chief was busy in prayers. When Allen, the village chief appeared, he took us to the place where the steam comes out of the earth. His beach side village dries coconut kernels on the natural heat coming from mother Earth. We then sat for a quiet lunch in the restaurant nearby. The electricity in the restaurant was drawn from the wind mill installed on the roof next to geothermal springs. I wondered if the waste heat from geothermal springs could be used for the air conditioning of the restaurant and town-hall of the village by using vapor-absorption refrigeration.
By the decision of the 21st Meeting of the Parties other 194 countries in the world declared Vanuatu in non-compliance because it did not have a licensing system under the Montreal Protocol and its consumption was above its base line by a few kilograms. I thought of telling this to Allen who spoke English peppered with the local language -Bislama. Allen was busy in looking at the wind mill and the waves of Pacific.
A thought flashed in my mind: what if every Meeting of the Parties could start with a prayer. A priest could be invited from 'Somewhere in South Pacific" and the prayer would start by asking the "Heavenly Father God to give us the wisdom of Allen who uses natural heat to dry the natural products, wind energy to give light and no air conditioning and hence no use of HCFC 22. Request the Holy Spirit from Takara village, to better understand our compliance with nature to benefit us and the entire mother Earth."
At dinner the next day, the Minister of Land and Natural Resources was speaking to me in his "natural" language. "Mr. Shende," he said in his native French, "yesterday it was raining heavily in Port Villa, today it is sunny. Today Vanuatu is in non-compliance. Tomorrow it will be in compliance. That's the rule of God in South Pacific".
I was convinced that there is very thin line between compliance and non compliance in south pacific.