Tonga is a tropical group of islands located in the South Pacific. Tonga is rich with a vibrant culture and population and the islands are known for their tropical beauty. While the lives of Tongans have vastly improved in recent years, there is still much that can be done. These 10 facts about living conditions in Tonga showcase both the struggles that Tongans face on a daily basis as well as the positive aspects of life in the country.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Tonga

  1. Water quality is an issue – The majority of Tonga’s freshwater supply is in the form of groundwater, collected either through rainwater harvesting or limestone extraction. Because Tonga has no coordinated, centralized system for caring for waste, individuals and communities manage wastewater on-site. This presents difficulties in monitoring water quality and sanitation, making Tongans susceptible to parasites and waterborne diseases.
  2. Noncommunicable diseases are quite common among residents – Tonga used to face challenges with deaths caused by infectious diseases, but now the country is facing a new primary cause of death: non-communicable diseases. According to a 2008 report, non-communicable diseases accounted for more than 70 percent of deaths in Tonga during that year. These diseases include respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, as well as cancer and diabetes. However, the Tongan Government has begun to take action against this growing problem and recently launched the Tongan National Non-Communicable Disease Strategy, which sets out to reduce the number of individuals in Tonga with non-communicable diseases.
  3. Tongans have excellent access to healthcare and medicine – According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 100 percent of the population has access to health care and medicine. However, the quality and supply of these hospitals and medicines can be an issue in some of the more remote areas of the country, such as in the outer islands.
  4. Tonga has a small, but open, island economy – The country largely exports agricultural goods and fish. These items make up close to 80 percent of Tonga’s total exports. Tonga’s economy is also based around tourism, although this industry has faltered in recent years following the global economic crisis of 2008.
  5. Early education in Tonga is a priorityAlmost 95 percent of the resident population with children between the ages of 6 and 14 are enrolled in school. Once children reach the age of 15, however, school attendance decreases. Overall, almost 30 percent of those between the ages of 15 and 19 do not attend school. Along with this, female school attendance is generally higher than males. This gap only increases in secondary school, where female enrollment is 67.4 percent and male enrollment is only 54 percent. It has often been reported that, as they grow older, many boys who fail their exams have chosen to quit school altogether and help their families by working.
  6. Housing can be a problem – This can be largely attributed to the wet, tropical climate and severe weather found in the South Pacific region. A recent study found that one of the most prevalent types of structural damage to homes in urban parts of Tonga was water damage, which was characterized by mold growing predominantly in the sleeping and cooking areas of the homes. Furthermore, many homes are often destroyed because of the harsh weather. For example, in 2018, Tropical Cyclone Gita hit various parts of Tonga, affecting roughly 70 percent of the population and completely destroying over 1,000 homes.
  7. Child marriage is common – Between 2015 and 2017, more than 100 child marriages took place in Tonga. These marriages were able to take place because of specific sections from Tonga’s Births, Deaths and Marriage Registration Act of 1926 that allow children between the ages of 15 and 17 to be married if there is parental approval. However, in many of these situations, young girls are pressured into marriage due to parental desires or teen pregnancy. To help combat this, a campaign was launched in 2017 called “Let Girls be Girls!” The campaign, which is supported by the Tongan Ministry of Justice, hopes to repeal the law that currently allows child marriage in Tonga.
  8. Close to 60 percent of Tongans are dependent solely on agriculture for food – Though acreage for agricultural goods is increasing, production and quality is decreasing due to unsustainable agricultural practices, pests, diseases and increasing urbanization. Attempts have been made in the past to try and stabilize food security, but only recently have any methods proven effective. In 2015 the Tonga Framework for Action on Food Security (TFAFS) was developed to ensure food security as a top priority. TFAFS focuses on combining a variety of methods to address food security, focusing on both immediate and long-term solutions.
  9. About 25 percent of households in Tonga have incomes that are below the poverty line88 percent of Tonga’s population live in rural areas of the country, which experience the highest rates of poverty and harshest living conditions. The population in these rural areas has been slowly declining, however, and is expected to drop another 7 percent in the next 30 years. However, this decline may present some problems for the Tongan agricultural industry, which may face labor shortages.
  10. Tonga has a relatively young population – The median age in Tonga is only 23 years old, and more than one-third of the population is 14 or younger. Additionally, just over 6 percent of the population is over the age of 65. However, life expectancy is slowly increasing in Tonga, and as of 2017, the average life expectancy had risen to 73 years old.

These 10 facts about living conditions in Tonga demonstrate the progress that the country has made in improving the lives of its people. Though there is still much work to be done, Tonga is working hard to become a strong, self-reliant nation.

– Melissa Quist
Photo: Flickr

A Journey to Stay: Migration and Industry in the South Pacific
Migration led to the population of the South Pacific Islands, along with innovation to sail against the wind. The islands developed a unique history, language, and culture and migration and industry built the South Pacific nations. There are challenges facing the islands, but people are rising up to face them. 

What are the South Pacific Islands?

The South Pacific includes about 10,000 islands located in the South Pacific Ocean that, based on their ethnic geographic history, can be further broken down into Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. 

About 3,400 years ago, people left land and started sailing, and the wind brought these new settlers to many remote islands such as Tonga, Fiji and Samoa. Eventually, this exploration stopped for about 2,000 years due to a lack of technology to sail against the wind. Once the technology was developed, many continued their migration and industrialization in the South Pacific to explore and settle the rest of Oceania to Tahiti, Hawaii and New Zealand.

From the 16th to 18th Century, the Europeans began to make infrequent and accidental discoveries of the islands that helped add to the narrative of wealth in unknown lands. It was not until the 18th Century that Europeans began an organized colonization effort in the South Pacific Islands. By 1980, most of the South Pacific Islands had reached independence.

Recent Migration

The general consensus is that people are happy on the islands and few leave unless searching for work or education. However, due to an increase in dangerous weather and rising seas, many are faced with a possibility of being forced out. An estimated 10 tropical cyclones are predicted to hit the islands between November and April each year.

While, there is no international law that recognizes people leaving on account of weather changes, talk of a new refugee has begun. On Tuvalu, it is estimated that migration will increase 70 percent by 2055, and already about 23 percent of citizens on Kiribati have migrated due to climate stressors, 41 percent for work and about 40 percent may migrate if flooding or climate changes worsen.

Business

Many of the islands face similar challenges — islands possess limited natural resources, a distance from larger markets and a greater susceptibility to external factors such as natural disasters. Despite these challenges though, tourism and other businesses are becoming a strong reality for many.

Larger islands such as Fiji, Samoa and French Polynesia have already begun to build a strong tourism industry. Fiji, in particular, is partnering its tourism with oceanic sustainability — a priority for many. Some tourism operators engage tourists with local communities by bringing them to view the Shark Reef Marine Reserve or visit villages away from the popular resorts.

Leaders in the Pacific Islands encourage entrepreneurialism, but efforts in the past have had mixed results, often beginning with loans and ending with shut-downs due to lack of payment. Currently, a refocus on education and training has started to take place, and informal polling has pointed out the importance of community in building businesses and highlighted microfinance for the future.

Migration and Industry in the South Pacific

Migration and industry in the South Pacific work to change islanders’ lives for the better. Australia still looks at many Pacific Islands as recipients rather than providers, which often detracts from viewing these islands as loci for businesses. To combat this perception, the Australian government is challenging financial institutions to sign a memorandum that will promote private sector development through financial inclusion.

Migration and industry in the South Pacific are of key importance. The islands are faced with finding their innovative selves to develop businesses and new technologies to avoid migration.

– Natasha Komen
Photo: Flickr

Climate Change and Food Security in the South Pacific
As climate change is debated hotly by the biggest carbon emitters of the world, temperatures increase and ocean levels rise, dramatically impacting the innocent. Although almost unnoticeable on the west coast of the U.S. or the harbors of Shanghai, the very same sea could soon be swallowing acres of farmland on tiny islands across the South Pacific, thus bringing the argument of climate change and food security to the forefront.

The Marshall Islands, a large grouping of 29 atolls located in the South Pacific Ocean, lies about halfway between Hawaii and Australia. Many of the islands only rise above the sea about two meters and are increasingly vulnerable to climate change.

According to The Japan Times, president of the Marshall Islands Christopher Loeak said the Pacific is fighting for its survival and climate change has already arrived.

Recently, the president declared a state of emergency for the Marshall Islands following some of the worst flooding ever experienced in conjunction with a severe drought. A freak tide nearly destroyed Majuro, a large coral atoll of 64 islands, breaching the sea wall and flooding the airport runway. A drought left 6,000 people surviving on less than one liter of water a day.

Many other South Pacific islands are experiencing the same problems. “Microstates,” as they’re called, including the Solomon’s, Tuvalu and the Carteret Islands are experiencing rapid erosion, higher tides, storm surges and inundation of wells with seawater. Kiribati, an island nation in the central Pacific Ocean comprised of 33 atolls and reef islands, is estimated by its president, Anote Tong, to be uninhabitable within the next 30 to 60 years. Its inhabitants from smaller surrounding islands are escaping the invading seawater and migrating to the capital south of Tarawa. The state is even planning the purchase of 2000 hectares in Fiji for farming and a possible place to live.

Although climate change might not be felt yet in some places of the world and those who profit from it work so tirelessly to bury the evidence, the effects are already changing in the islands of the South Pacific, a region of the world emitting only 0.1 percent of the planet’s carbon. The islander’s way of life is being jeopardized, threatening food security and stripping away their basic needs for survival.

In a 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, observations were discussed on temperature rises in the South Pacific. In fact, compared to earlier historical records in the twentieth century, by 2003, it had become 15 percent drier and 0.8 degrees warmer. The ocean surface had risen about 0.4 degrees, altogether contributing to increased El Niño effects and cyclone frequency and intensity.

In the Pacific, about 70 percent of the main agriculture is geographically located to take advantage of the summer rainy season. Agriculture is therefore heavily dependent on seasonal rainfall for production, but rising temperatures and recurrent droughts are wreaking havoc on food supply and costing, on some occasions, more than island countries’ gross domestic products.

Many urban populations in the Pacific are now very much dependent on cheap foreign imports for their daily sustenance. However, according to a study by the University of Copenhagen in 2007, in the Solomon Islands, the majority of rural people still live and depend on subsistence food production and fisheries. A multitude of cultivated plants such as yams, taro sweet potatoes and other crops such as bananas and watermelon are still part of daily life.

In the recent past, El Niño events have devastated the sugarcane industry and killed off livestock totaling millions of dollars. Flooding and strong winds caused by tropical storms have, in the past, affected farming, but in the years to come it’s projected to only get worse. Precipitation variations are possible up to 14 percent on both sides of normal rainfall by the end of the century, according to the IPCC

Climate associated disasters such as tropical cyclones, flash floods and droughts impose serious constraints on development in the islands, so much so that some Pacific island nations seem to be in a constant mode of recovery. Food availability and people’s accessibility to food are among the first to be affected following such disasters.

The islands in the South Pacific are now leading the world by example, pursuing renewable energy for their power needs. They are beginning to substitute costly import-dependent diesel for homegrown coconut biofuel power and outer island communities are being converted to solar power. Tokelau, a territory of New Zealand, has become the first territory to become 100 percent solar-powered. The Cook Islands and Tuvalu are aiming to be all solar powered by 2020.

Someday, possibly in the not so distant future, the world may lose its jewel of the Pacific. The white sandy beaches and the sapphire seas will disappear for good, consumed by rising ocean waters.

– Jason Zimmerman

Sources: FAO, Japan Times
Photo: Flickr

south_pacific_poverty_women
When economic crises, military conflict and general mayhem plague the continents, few people consider the impact such events may have on the communities located in the South Pacific. Over 10 million people populate the 3,500 islands scattered across the Pacific Ocean, an extremely large number of whom suffer from debilitating disease and poverty.

Save for the extreme natural catastrophes that seem to constantly plague the Philippines, the high rates of poverty, poor education and abysmal health of Pacific islanders fails to gander consistent international attention.

To illustrate the severity of the problem, here are nine facts to learn about poverty in the South Pacific.

1. 38 percent of Papua New Guineans live below the National Basic Needs Poverty Line, which means 2.7 million people are unable to buy sufficient food and meet basic requirements for housing, clothing, transport and school fees. Even more alarmingly, 61 percent of the populace does not have access to safe drinking water.

2. Pacific islands are disproportionately affected by global disasters. A 2012 World Bank study revealed that of the 20 countries in the world with the highest average annual disaster losses scaled by gross domestic product, eight are Pacific island countries: Vanuatu, Niue, Tonga, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Marshall Islands and the Cook Islands.

3. Literacy rates are a persistent concern, especially on the Solomon Islands, where only 65 percent of the adult population (330,000 people) can read.

4. Pacific Islanders may be notorious for their love of canned meats like spam and corned beef, but what is not widely discussed is the debilitating effects such imported goods have on their health. As of 2007, eight of the 10 heaviest countries were located in the South Pacific. Nauru, the world’s smallest republic with just over 9,000 inhabitants, earned the number one spot with over 90 percent of their adult population considered obese.

5. Human rights violations also remain high in the pacific. Amnesty International recently reprimanded Papua New Guinea for burning a woman alive amid allegations of sorcery. Although the 1971 Sorcery Law has been repealed, which criminalized sorcery and could be used as a defense in murder trials, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women in 2012 found that sorcery allegations are often made to mask the abuse of women.

6. Domestic abuse and gendered violence is also a concern but inconsistent reporting makes it difficult to pinpoint exact levels of abuse. In the first National Study on Domestic Violence in Tonga, conducted in 2009, results found that 45 percent of Tongan woman reported having experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse in their lifetime.

7. Pacific Islanders are at high risk for Neglected Tropical Diseases, which commonly affect the world’s poor, women and disabled. Hookworm, leprosy, scabies and Japanese encephalitis are among the most prevalent; these adversely affect worker productivity, pregnancy outcomes and child cognition and development.

8. In 2010, Oceania unemployment rates reached 14 percent, while the United States average in the same period came in at 9 percent.

9. Since the mid 20th century, approximately 9.2 million people in the Pacific region have been affected by extreme events, resulting in 9,811 deaths and $3.2 billion in damages.

Pacific island nations’ small size, limited natural resources and great distances to major markets makes them particularly vulnerable to external crises and thus results in extremely volatile economies. Greater commitment to development initiatives will enable Oceanic nations to handle stresses caused by external forces and eventually strengthen the autonomy of the respective nations.

– Emily Bajet

Sources: University of Hawaii, Asian American For Equality, Oxfam, The World Bank, The World Bank News, Poodwaddle, Australia Network News, Australia Network, The New York Times, PLOS, Samoaobserver, Matangitonga, Labour
Photo: IFAD