SUVA — Poverty remains a significant concern in Fiji, despite the overall level of development in the region. Four reasons can be identified to answer the question: “Why is Fiji poor?”
1. Political Instability
Political instability has plagued Fiji since it gained independence from Britain in 1970. Feuds over ethnicity not only negatively affected Fiji’s political system, but its society, economy and global standing. An ethnic divide first occurred following the 1977 elections. Due to a close vote between the Melanesian and Indo-Fijian parties, neither side could form a stable government.
However, in 2014, Frank Bainimarama became the new prime minister making equality a major political focus. Since then political stability for Fiji has steadily risen. The World Bank shows Fiji’s progress through a point system for political stability. The country has risen from -0.03 points in 2013 to 0.58 points in 2015.
2. Social Assistance
Fiji offers many types of social assistance options including food voucher programs, free bus fare and free education up to the secondary level. Many of these programs are helpful for families and children facing low-income circumstances. Unfortunately, social assistance lacks for older generations. Fiji’s underdeveloped and low coverage pension system is responsible for almost 70 percent of the poverty in the population 60 years or older.
3. Informal Settlements
“Why is Fiji poor?” can also be answered by looking at the 140,000 people residing in squatter settlements around the country. Most of these informal houses lack basic amenities such as clean drinking water, sewage systems and electricity. Poverty rates for squatter settlements are amongst the highest across all the divisions. In the poorest division, squatter settlements have poverty rates of about 53 percent.
Habitat for Humanity is one organization responding to this crisis with new house construction and sanitation projects. With the help of volunteers, low-income families contribute their own labor to build themselves new homes.
4. Natural Disasters
Poverty in Fiji has a long history associated with natural disasters. Cyclones have specifically caused repeated damage to Fiji’s progress in housing, health, schooling and sanitation. Poverty stricken people especially have a hard time recovering from natural disasters. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs, Fiji’s most recent cyclone, Winston, affected 350,000 people.
The cyclone destroyed 18,000 houses, disrupted schooling for 72,000 primary and secondary students as well as formed an emergency need for sanitation.
Fiji has many factors that contribute to the big question of “Why Is Fiji Poor?” Four key examples are political instability, social assistance, informal housing and natural disasters. With these issues outlined and previous failures accounted for, the government of Fiji should hopefully now be able to address poverty from a more effective angle.
– Emilee Wessel