Spanning the largest ocean in the world, we constitute also the largest geographic region of the American Red Cross. Our islands are the most remote land masses on earth and our offices (on the Hawaiian Islands, American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas) are the most dispersed. Our geography dictates very distinctive approaches to disaster planning, recovery and response. Ranking at the second highest national risk level for natural disasters, the region’s disaster variety is also unparalleled – from tsunamis to volcanic eruptions to typhoons.
The Pacific Islands region is also on the front lines of climate change. Low lying coral atolls in the Pacific regularly experience inundation by sea level rise caused by global warming. Hawaii, sadly, constitutes the endangered species capital of the world.
Culturally, the Pacific Islands Region encompasses two of the three Pacific cultural zones – Polynesia and Micronesia. Our region claims four non-English official languages.
For all their diversity, the Pacific islands have a scarcity of natural resources. Hawaii imports almost 96% of its food and has the highest percentage of fuel (oil) imports of any state. Any disruption to air and shipping lines by a disaster carries significant recovery complications.
Home to the largest US military command (US Indo-PACOM), the region’s burgeoning geopolitical significance has been highlighted by China’s attempts to gain Pacific footholds. Hawaii’s large active duty service member presence is well known. Less recognized is that Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians serve in the military at rates three times higher than their demographic representation. Hawaii ranks 7th among all states in the proportion of veteran population.
Our Pacific Islands Region is headquartered in Hawaii, which is often referred to as the “melting pot” for the way the spirit of aloha has brought cultures from east to west together. Hawaii is the only state without a racial majority. Here, we boast the highest percentage of those with a multi-racial background. Almost a quarter of Hawaii’s people, more than eight times the US average, claim more than one race or ethnicity. Over 40% of Hawaii marriages are interracial. Rather than an indistinct “Melting Pot,” we offer an image of a salad or a thriving reef, as these preserve the distinctness of the vibrant flavors, colors and identity of each individual.
Even in this harmonious context, Native Hawaiians fight for appropriate redress of historic wrongs and injustices, not the least of which was the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1898. And, in recent years, Micronesians in Hawaii have become targets of blatant discrimination. Hawai’i has diversity but not always inclusion and equity.