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IAEA’s First Fact Finding Mission to Samoa and Tonga Identifies Opportunities for Cooperation


IAEA Section Head Gashaw Wolde briefed Samoan Prime Minister Fiamē Naomi Mataʻafa on the work of the IAEA. (Photo: J. Romero/IAEA) 

The IAEA has conducted its first official fact finding mission to two of its newest Member States, Samoa and Tonga, to gain an overview of the two countries’ needs and the opportunities for IAEA support. During the mission last month, IAEA staff met with government officials and experts from the Ministries of Agriculture, Health, Environment and Education of both Samoa and Tonga.

“By speaking directly with national counterparts and visiting national facilities, the IAEA was able to gain a better understanding of the development context and institutional arrangements in Samoa and Tonga and to identify potential opportunities for the IAEA to provide technical assistance. Nuclear science and technology can often complement existing national development programmes,” explained Gashaw Wolde, Section Head in the Division for Asia and the Pacific at the IAEA’s Department of Technical Cooperation.

Samoa and Tonga are both officially classified as small island developing States (SIDS). Due to their geographic isolation, dispersed populations and reliance on the ocean for their livelihoods, SIDS face specific development challenges. They lack resilience to shocks and have a heightened vulnerability to the effects of climate change. Many SIDS also face a shortage of qualified technical personnel. South-South cooperation is of key importance to SIDS, because of their lack of skilled and experienced workers in the nuclear science and technology field.

“The Pacific Islands, and nations like Tonga, face a future with extreme vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. We must work together to build Pacific resilience in the face of more frequent and severe disasters and ongoing climate change threats,” said Paula Ma'u, the Chief Secretary and Secretary to the Cabinet of Tonga’s Prime Minister’s Office.

IAEA staff discussed the IAEA's technical cooperation programme with Tongan Prime Minister Siaosi Sovaleni. (Photo: G. Wolde/IAEA) 

The IAEA provides its Member States, which include 27 SIDS, with support tailored to their needs and priorities. In January 2022, the IAEA put in place a Sub-Regional Approach to the Pacific Islands (SAPI) to address challenges faced by the Pacific Islands, including those related to nutrition, agricultural productivity, non-communicable diseases (specifically cancer), marine and coastal environments, water resource management and radiation safety. SAPI provides a platform to increase sub-regional collaboration and amplify the efforts of the IAEA at the national level.

In Samoa, IAEA staff also met with the staff of the Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa (SROS) to discuss the solutions that nuclear science and technology can offer to address some of the country’s development priorities. Like other Pacific Island states, Samoa has limited freshwater resources, and obesity, cancer and cardiovascular diseases pose challenges for public health services. Climate change and sea water intrusion are also of concern.

"The Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa sees the cooperation and collaborative partnership between Samoa and IAEA as having great potential for knowledge sharing, technical assistance and capacity building opportunities for our SROS scientists," said Mataeliga Pelenato Fonoti, Acting CEO of SROS.

As part of the fact finding mission, which took place from 17 – 27 July, the IAEA team met the senior staff of Tonga’s Vaiola Hospital to discuss support for healthcare services. Through its technical cooperation programme, the IAEA is currently providing a number of Pacific Island States with support in this area, particularly in relation to the development of diagnostic radiology infrastructure. Assistance is being provided in the form of capacity building and through the procurement of equipment, including X-ray machines and ultrasound devices.

The IAEA also provides assistance in response to emergencies. In January 2022, Tonga’s undersea Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai volcano erupted, causing deadly tsunamis. In the aftermath, the IAEA worked with Tonga’s Ministry of Health and other international organizations to present lessons learned from the IAEA’s experience in responding to natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic. The IAEA also initiated the purchase of a COVID-19 emergency support package, a digital radiographic X-ray system and a portable ultrasound for Tonga.

The Pacific Islands of Samoa and Tonga are two of the IAEA’s newest Member States. (Photo: J. Romero/IAEA) 

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