With passion and dedication to her work as a Government Environment Officer, Debra Kereseka, a 38 years old, mother of two, was recently elevated to the post of Deputy Director of Environment at the Environment and Conservation Division within the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology.
Hailing from Boe Village, Choiseul Province and Chubikopi Village in the Marovo Lagoon, Western Province, Ms Kereseka is the second woman to hold this post since the Division’s establishment in 1995.
Ms Kereseka’s journey in the Public Service began when she was recruited as a Senior Environment Officer in November 2007 after graduating from the University of the South Pacific with Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science.
Nine years later in 2016, Ms Kereseka assumed the role of Chief Environment officer after completing further studies at James Cook University (JCU), Australia, with a Master’s Degree in Environmental Studies from 2012 to 2013.
Upon her return to Honiara and with her passion in the field of Environment, she faithfully continued her job until she was appointed as Deputy Director Environment late in November 2021.
“So its 14 years now since 2007 when I was initially recruited,” Ms Kereseka said when asked to recount her years serving in Government.
As a female and a mother, juggling between both work and family commitments is always a daunting task. But her passion and commitment to the job she enjoys appears to be also her number one priority.
As she took up her new task, Ms Kereseka was quick to point out her immediate challenges at work as the Deputy Director.
“One of the main challenges I see in our work is in terms of human resources,” she said.
According to Ms Kereseka, the Environment Conservation Division is responsible to implement and enforce 3 Acts of Parliament. These includes the Environment Act 1998; the Wildlife Protection and Management Act 1998 and Amendment 2017, the Protected Areas Act 2010 and their associated regulations.
“The functions under these Acts requires well established human resources to effectively carry out mandates. Currently we have less than 20 staffs who are all based in Honiara and no provincial seconded officers. Therefore, our capacity to serve the needs out in the provincial and community levels are very limited,” she said in reference to the challenge of limited human resources.
“Another challenge, I see is the coordination between the different sectors that have direct and indirect impacts to the environment. The Environment Sector is broad and includes almost everything and therefore in order to effectively implement our plans and programmes we need to coordinate effectively with the other sectors. This will require cooperation from the other sectors as well and that is a challenge that needs good communication and partnership,” she pointed out.
From a technical point of view, Ms. Kereseka said another challenge she and her team face in their daily work is to try as much as possible to strike a balance between environment and natural resource management and the various physical developments that are taking place in the country.
In terms of financial challenges, she is quick to point out that the environment sector receives the lowest percentage of budget allocation from the National Government which limits her division’s support services to Provincial Governments and rural communities on initiatives to protect and manage the environment in which people depend very much on for their livelihoods and subsistence.
Besides the challenges faced by Ms Kereseka, her passion for the job she loves continue to motivate her to overcome these challenges and press on with her work to achieve the goals and outcomes expected of her as the second in command at the Environment Division.
She highlighted a few successful outcomes regardless of the challenges when asked if there is any so far.
One of the immediate success stories of her team is the increased awareness and compliance to the need for proper Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) by major developments in the country as stipulated in the Environment Act. Increased awareness is key towards ensuring development projects comply with the requirements of the Act.
The other success story of her team is the increased awareness and support gained from development partners and Donors to support their work in the pollution control and waste management sector was a great milestone her team.
“For instance, we are currently working with ADB, as the donor partner and HCC as our implementing agency partner with other relevant stakeholders to prepare the Honiara Solid Waste Management Project. This includes feasibility studies and assessments to identify a suitable landfill site for Honiara and eventually design and build a new landfill facility,” she pointed out.
Another of her successful outcomes, is the increased awareness and recognition by resource owners to protect their land and natural resources through the declaration of their land as Protected Area under the Protected Area Act which her team continues to rollout regardless of the challenges brought by Covid-19.
Ms Kereseka’s work involves a lot of collaboration and partnership with plenty of stakeholders which requires lots of communication and understanding.
She reckons that clear communication and understanding of each other is necessary towards achieving clearly set goals in efforts to manage the country’s environment and address outstanding environmental issues.
“My call for action for partners and other stakeholders, is for all of us to make a much greater effort to work together among ourselves to confront the many environmental challenges we collectively share,”.
“Also strong partnership and good communication between us are key strategies to ensure the environment and natural resources of Solomon Islands are protected, managed and sustainably used for the maximum benefit of people and government of Solomon Islands,” she said.
As she concluded her response to this interview, Ms Kereseka eagerly expresses her vision for the future of this country’s environment by encouraging young Solomon Islanders to pursue a career in environmental management.
“My advice to young Solomon Islanders who want to pursue a career in this sector, is to be passionate about your work”.
“This sector will provide you with an opportunity to meet people at all levels including at communities, national, regional and international who are all working to achieve a common goal, yet are all approaching the goal from a different motive, back ground and perspective and are faced by different challenges,”