The first seafaring vessel "Race for Water" arrives in Rapa Nui this week. Marco Simeoni, the initiator of the project federates the local population together in order to transform the island in an example of sustainability building on ancient wisdom, millennia of experience and recent innovations
At the beginning of August this year, Mr Sebastian Piñera, the recently re-elected President of Chile, sent a law to Congress that gives the South Pacific island, formerly known as Easter Island, back its original name: Rapa Nui. This renaming took nearly three centuries after the island, which has become
famous for its massive carved stone heads, the moai, was named Easter Island by Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, when he chanced upon it on Easter Day in 1722.
A return to its original name, and the right of Rapa Nui’s inhabitants to determine access to the island, is only a first step in the right direction. The next step, and one that is much more challenging, requires the involvement of the international community in returning dignity to the islanders, and showing them the respect they deserve for their culture and traditions.
A serious controversy, one filled with drama that caught the attention of the world, sprouted from the bestselling book Collapse by Jared Diamond, in which he describes how grand cultures disappear. One of his most epochal cases is the degeneration of Rapa Nui. His explanation, summarised in a few key concepts, is based on overpopulation and the overexploitation of natural resources through deforestation. Clans that were incapable of reconciling due to ego, as well as misguided efforts to produce those grand monoliths, aggravated the situation and resulted in extreme hunger and cannibalism. Exactly the kind of drama that would unfold before your eyes in a Hollywood movie…
A recent scientific interpretation of the fate of Rapa Nui may well paint Diamond’s theories as ‘fake news’. Other scholars have pointed to the destruction of the ecosystem as mainly due to the arrival of rats, which made their way over centuries from Vietnam, and ate the seed of indigenous palms, preventing propagation. Colonisers also enslaved the local people and decimated the population, if not by excessive force, then through the introduction of diseases.
Through the use of modern forensic technology, the facts have been now laid bare. While sensational information regarding the denuding the island and cannibalism gets all the attention, the true facts of slavery and the introduction of rats hardly make for good front-page coverage. This does not contain sufficient drama. As a result, the tourists who now enter the island, may well regard the locals as survivors of a self-inflicted disaster.
The inhabitants of Rapa Nui merit restorative justice – and more. They deserve to have the effects of man-made environmental disasters reversed and corrected. The Rapa Nui lived for centuries off sun, sea, and soil. They have the indigenous wisdom to their island turned into a shining example of the regeneration of an ecosystem, and their community into one that is deserving of its true history.
Time is of the essence. There is no time for ceremonies nor joint declarations, and certainly not for extensive or expensive studies. The 6,000 strong local population of Rapa Nui now needs to become self-sufficient as it used to be within this modern society that self-inflicts climate change, overfishing and plastics in the sea. They are in need of pragmatic actions that respond to their basic needs for water, food, energy, shelter,employment, health services and education.
Rapa Nui should take its future under its own wings, and start with the immediate creation of a local power and water company, one that is 100% owned by the locals. The financing can be guaranteed through a budget based on the import of diesel and gas. If that total is capitalised for ten years and converted into its present value there is a capacity to pay back. Add to this number the Government subsidies along the same accounting rules, and this will offer a cash amount for investment, one that surpasses the need of implementing a solar, hydrogen and kite power generation. Every roof of every
dwelling could be used for solar panels, and for rainwater harvesting. Everyone joins in. The ownership is local. This is not an act of rebellion, nor a first step in a declaration of independence, this is taking responsibility where others have failed to respond to the basic needs for over a century.
As the global plastic pollution crisis is unfolding in this part of the Pacific as well, thousands of tons of polymers can be collected and converted into fuel through pyrolysis. This landed waste is good for 20% of all power supply on the island. Then a mere one square kilometre of seaweed cultivation will provide sufficient gas for everyone, while generating about one hundred jobs. The solids from the gasification process provide a rich fertiliser, one urgently needed to restore the soil. As soon as all 5,000 vehicles are fueled by gas or electricity, the island will surpass the success of the grand case of El Hierro, the first island to become self-sufficient in providing water and power, for a population of 5,600 people. Their infrastructure permitted to expansion of over 10,000 inhabitants. The substitution of imported fuel by wind was so successful that all bank loans were repaid 12 years early. Rapa Nui deserves this approach.
In parallel to the basic infrastructure, there is also a need for fresh food. The island, of a 163 square kilometres, offers sufficient area to feed 25,000 people – provided the agricultural ‘experts’ refrain from introducing monocultures and animal feedlots. A smart agricultural system, which cascading nutrients, energy and matter will produce abundant fruit, vegetables, feed and meat. A local boutique slaughterhouse processes meat cuts according to local taste and offers local fish for extraordinary nutritious meals. Only a limited number of tourists are permitted on the island. We witnessed the high contribution to jobs and income when Bhutan applied strict conditions, justified by the fragile environment, and the need for wealth creation that values indigenous culture. This economic development philosophy brings all Rapa Nui around the table.
The marine vessel, Race for Water, will arrive on Rapa Nui early September this year. It is on its second around-the-world voyage – solely using the sun, seawater and the wind (kite) to produce power and water to tour the world. The President of Chile honoured us with a visit to the boat with five Chilean Ministers and the Lady Governor of Rapa Nui.
The ZERI Foundation created by the author of this article, and Race for Water are there to ensure that everyone can meet around a portfolio of timely solutions – ones that the Rapa Nui are ready to implement and fund through legacy investors. Who would not be prepared to stand with the Rapa Nui – to change the story of the past by charting the course of the future?
The ZERI Network will create a platform ZERI Pacifico, registered in Rapa Nui to support the design, implementation and financing of the strategy forward as described in the article above.
For an update on the Race 4 Water please consult: www.raceforwater.org
For information about ZERI and the Blue Economy go to: www.zeri.org - www.theblueeconomy.org
The aim of this blog is to present a fresh look at realities around us. Whereas I do not pretend to present the truth nor a definite position, I do wish to push the reader to think beyond the obvious. After all, time has come to dramatically improve the plight of millions, and that requires more than the predictable. Sometimes it forces us into spheres of discomfort.