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World Vision in the Pacific

AUSTRALIA'S largest aid and development agency, World Vision, has created a special Brisbane-based office to spearhead an ambitious plan to double its investment in fighting poverty in the Pacific and Timor-Leste.

The agency plans to increase its annual investment in the region from $15 million to $30 million in the next four years.

Staff at the new office, based in West End, will also oversee the deployment of rapid response teams in the wake of natural disasters and other humanitarian crises.

World Vision Australia CEO Rev Tim Costello said almost half of all people in the Pacific region (four million people) are living in poverty and in some countries the numbers of child deaths and malnourishment near those of sub-Saharan Africa.

"There is a human tragedy unfolding – daily and silently – on Australia's doorstep in which 18 000 children die each year of preventable diseases," said Mr Costello.

"The misery and death poverty is inflicting on our closest neighbours is a tragic reality that should be seared into our national consciousness."

Mr Costello said Australians had a special relationship with the Pacific due to its proximity and the bonds forged through theatres of war such as Kokoda.

He said the global economic crisis, the rise of China in the region, increased foreign investment and revenues from extractive industries created an "unparalleled window of opportunity" for the Pacific to make inroads into tackling the levels of poverty and disease that have blighted the region.

Several Pacific nations have made huge leaps towards stable governance in recent years.

Timor-Leste recently celebrated 10 years since independence and a peaceful and democratic Presidential election.

Papua New Guinea held parliamentary elections in June and Vanuatu will do the same in October, Mr Costello said.

"Yet the Pacific is also facing incredible challenges such as threats to political stability, climatic changes and the reduction in foreign aid by European nations and multilateral organisations such as the World Bank," Mr Costello said.

"The sad reality is that the current efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals the world's agreed blueprint to tackle chronic poverty –were failing in the Pacific and eff orts to save children had to be intensified."

Mr Costello said the Pacific is one of the largest recipients of Australian Government overseas aid and he applauded the move to increase aid to the region by 37 per cent in the last Federal Budget.

"Yet there are also opportunities for Australian corporations and donors to make a contribution to eradicate the worst poverty in the region and World Vision's new office will aim to be a bridge for Australians seeking to link with Pacific countries," said Mr Costello.

World Vision's new Pacific unit will focus its operations on Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Timor-Leste.

The initiative also involves expertise and resources provided by World Vision New Zealand.

The new Brisbane office will also accommodate the agency's Queensland operations, which seek to raise funds and advocate on behalf of people living in poverty, and was officially opened on 31 May.