SEATTLE — Amidst the serene South Pacific waters northeast of Fiji are the Wallis and Horne Islands (Futuna and Alofi). Settled nearly 3,000 years ago, their small size and remote location have isolated them from global consciousness. Often times, this French territory is not cited in research publications due to a lack of statistical analysis. Naturally, this limits the amount of information known about its residents.
The islands comprise an overseas French prefecture. An administrator oversees the republic in conjunction with a six-member cabinet composed of three appointed members and the three kings: Wallis has the Lavelua (King of Uvea) while Futuna has the Tu’i Sigave (King of Sigave) and the Tu’i Agaifo (King of Alo). Usually, the administrator and an elected senator represent the territory. Secondly, the people elect a local government body, but its responsibility lies mostly in handling the financials.
Taxes on Australian imports, French government subsidies and fishing licenses for Asian companies earn most of the territory’s revenue. However, the locals use a barter system to trade resources.
The people of the territory have a subsistence economy, fishing and farming basic crops like coconuts, taro, mangoes, cassava, yams and sweet potatoes. Overall, this territory is prone to erosion and has poor resources. Decimated forests are largely to blame; they put pressure on the economy by contributing to low soil quality, which limits agricultural output.
The most recent census was completed in 2013 when the population was 12,197. It is expected to decline throughout the century; a 2050 projection from the Pacific Community’s Statistics for Development Division (SDD) currently stands at 10,400. As of June 2016, the SDD estimates 11,800 people reside on the islands with an average household size of four. Most residents are between the ages of 25-59 and represent 42.5 percent of the population. The islanders are aging, and the women aren’t giving birth to enough children to sustain the population, causing the gradual decrease.
Additionally, the residents migrate from the island for better economic opportunity. Most Wallisians and Futunans head to New Caledonia for jobs. Government positions in Wallis serve as the primary employment option for residents. Unemployment and reduced access to communications technologies limit the opportunities of its people.
The Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) are grouped accordingly: Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. Geographically, Wallis and Futuna are part of the latter. However, the territory is not considered part of French Polynesia, where poverty stands at roughly 30 percent according to one 2016 Pacific Islands Report.
Poverty in Wallis and Futuna is not reported and socioeconomic statistics are scarce. Until new studies on the islands are conducted, the figure for poverty in Wallis and Futuna will remain unreported. Jean Paul Goepfert, the Director of Statistics and Economic Studies on the Island of Wallis, could not be reached for comment on poverty levels in the territory.
Although a current figure of poverty in Wallis and Futuna is unavailable, the political conversation may change. In September 2016, the 47th Pacific Island Forum was held in Pohnpei of the Federated States of Micronesia. Several associate members, leaders and councils were in attendance. Additionally, a small delegation from Wallis and Futuna observed the events.
The issue of poverty constituted a brief discussion of those with disabilities who are alienated from the labor market. Participants reaffirmed a commitment to poverty reduction; however, statistics were not revealed to the public. Subsequent Pacific Islands Forums are scheduled in Samoa (2017), Nauru (2018) and Tuvalu (2019).
These future meetings should yield more information on developments in the region and perhaps address poverty issues in Wallis and Futuna. At present, the issues of socioeconomic data collection, reporting and quality of life does not seem to warrant the attention of the French Government.
– JG Federman