Human Rights in VanuatuVanuatu is a group of islands in the South Pacific Ocean slightly larger than Connecticut and home to fewer than 300,000 people. The nation gained its independence from France and the United Kingdom in the summer of 1980. Despite the several decades of independence, one can still see the strong influence that these European nations have on Vanuatu to this day. For instance, aspects of English common law and French law are heavily incorporated into Vanuatu’s own legal system. The protection of human rights in Vanuatu is sadly lacking in several areas, such as the protection of women against violence and discrimination, prison conditions and governmental corruption.

One of the many struggles that women are currently facing in Vanuatu is an inability to even get their voices heard. The nation has a 52-member parliament but no female representation. Violence against women is a frequent occurrence in Vanuatu. The U.S. State Department 2015 Report on human rights in Vanuatu states that while reliable statistics on this topic are nowhere to be found, police have noticed a growing trend of violence against women. In order for this to change, parts of Vanuatu’s culture will likely need to change. Women in Vanuatu often do not report incidents of violence either due to a lack of knowledge regarding their own rights or fear of possible backlash for their actions.

Corruption is another problem in Vanuatu. Generally, corruption can be quelled by making and effectively implementing laws prohibiting it, but Vanuatu is currently unable to implement the law. As a result, those who are corrupt are seldom held accountable. Transparency International is an organization that, according to its website, works “closely with governments, businesses and citizens to stop the abuse of power, bribery and secret deals.” The organization believes that the Vanuatu government must start and finance a national anti-corruption agency to combat this practice.

The human rights of prisoners in Vanuatu are not being sufficiently protected either. Thankfully, foreign donor funding has allowed for prisoner and detention center conditions in the region to improve, but they still have not met international standards.

Vanuatu clearly has much work to do to improve the protection of its people’s human rights.  A step in the right direction did occur in this past summer as Vanuatu participated in a Pacific Islands Forum review of the nation’s policies and programmes.  A goal of this initiative is to create a toolkit or checklist that the government can use moving forward to help it improve its protection of its people’s human rights. This review is just now coming to an end, so its impact remains to be seen.

Adam Braunstein

Photo: Google

Vanuatu Hunger
Vanuatu is a developing nation of islands in the Pacific Ocean. Agriculture is an important industry for the country, while fishing is an important food source for the people who live there. There are many factors impacting hunger in Vanuatu. Some are better understood than others, and some factors are universal in developing nations. Below are ten facts that help describe hunger in Vanuatu.

Hunger Causes Mineral Deficiencies and Lack of Macronutrients
Around 38% of children under five and 24% of women suffer from anemia. Twelve percent of the population gets less than half the recommended amount of Vitamin A. Vanuatuans do not always get enough macronutrients such as protein or calories either.

Malnutrition Leads to Unhealthy Kids
In 2013, the World Health Organization reported that 28.5% of children under five had low heights for their age, 10.7% were underweight, 4.4% had low body weights for their heights and 4.6% were obese. Obesity, stunting and wasting can all be connected to poor nutrition and helps explain how these are all seen in developing nations like Vanuatu.

Noncommunicable Diseases are Rising Because of Malnutrition
Noncommunicable diseases, which include cardiovascular disease and diabetes, account for 70% of deaths in Vanuatu and can be linked to poor nutrition. As global trade increases, Vanuatuans have more access to processed, high-calorie, high-salt and high-sugar foods. These foods are typically less expensive than healthy options and are becoming more common as a result.

Climate Change Exacerbates Hunger in Vanuatu
As in other developing nations, climate change has a large impact on food security, in part because of these countries’ inability to adapt. Vanuatu has been ranked in the top five countries for climate change impact.

Cyclone Pam, which struck Vanuatu in 2015, may be a result of climate change-induced weather patterns. This cyclone destroyed banana and coconut trees while stripping citrus and avocado trees. It also killed livestock and impacted the fishing industry by damaging equipment and coral reefs as well as killing fish stock. Eighty percent of Vanuatuans feed themselves through their agriculture.

Hunger in Vanuatu is More Prevalent in Urban Areas
Those residing in urban areas typically consume fewer calories, iron and Vitamin A. This occurs because people in the countryside have room for farms on their land and can provide their independent food sources. Those in urban areas (who do not have room for farmland) have to pay more for food due to transportation costs.

Households Headed by Women Have Better Nutrition
In homes that are run by women, people are likely to eat more calories, protein, iron and Vitamin A, as opposed to households headed by men. While families led by men are more liable to face hardship, the relationship between gender and nutrient intake in Vanuatu is not currently understood.

More Dependents Means Less Food
As the dependents in a household increases, the number of calories and protein each person eats decreases. When a home had no dependents, each person typically eats 130 grams of protein. With five dependents, each individual only eats 58 grams of protein. This fact is a simple relationship between more people being dependent on those who have income.

Fish Contribute Significantly to Vanuatuans’ Diet
Fishing contributes little to Vanuatu’s economy. Seventy-two percent of households fish. Of those who do fish, 73% feed themselves with their catch, while 26% feed themselves and sell some too. As a result, fishing is critical to food security in Vanuatu.

This fact is another reason why addressing climate change is important. As ocean temperatures rise, coral reefs housing fish may die.

Australia Cares About Vanuatu
Perform an internet search for “Who’s helping Vanuatu” and many Australian websites will pop up. Indeed, most of the reporting on Cyclone Pam was done by Australian news outlets. Between 2016 and 2017, the Australian government gave Vanuatu $69.8 million in development aid. Between 2017 and 2018, they are budgeted to give the same amount. Much of this support is for development not related to hunger. However, Australia allocated $50 million over three years to rebuild the damage suffered by Cyclone Pam.

The United Nations is Helping Fight Hunger in Vanuatu
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has been working with Vanuatu since 1983. The FAO has helped Vanuatu’s agriculture and fishery sectors recover from past disasters, including Cyclone Pam. The FAO is also working with the country to increase food security.

More than 80 islands comprise the country of Vanuatu. Set in the Pacific Ocean, the country is a favorite tourist spot. More than 12% live in poverty. This fact naturally affects food security. While Vanuatu does not get much of news coverage, there are governments and organizations continually helping reduce hunger in Vanuatu.

Mary Katherine Crowley

Photo: Flickr

Vanuatu is a South Pacific island group famed for its beautiful beaches, world-class diving and ancient culture. Beauty aside, the island has dealt with a number of issues surrounding its water quality and the reliability of its water system.

Because the island is inhabited in part by tourists who visit sporadically, maintaining reliable water sources for the entire island population can prove to be quite difficult. Furthermore, the island community predicts that the risk of pollution and climate-related changes will affect and likely lessen the availability of clean water sources in years to come.

Water quality in Vanuatu is paramount to sustaining the island’s natural environment and its booming tourist industry. As a result, Vanuatu’s Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources works constantly to ensure that citizens and visitors have access to sufficient quantities of clean water to perform basic functions including drinking, cooking and sanitation.

One obstacle that many island communities face is the lack of freshwater sources available nearby. The island’s Ministry of Water emphasizes providing equitable access to clean water sources for all communities to support public health and promote social and economic development. Vanuatu’s main strategy to access fresh water is through groundwater drilling, which provides the urban areas of Port Vila and Luganville with clean water for daily tasks.

While accessing clean water in one of the country’s large cities may not be difficult, a major concern lies in providing rural communities with clean water. One way that Vanuatu addresses this concern is through the use of smaller hand pumps in rural areas as an alternative to groundwater drilling machinery. Another effective method is rainwater catchments which are slightly less reliable and require monitoring of weather patterns.

Perhaps the most important concern for the island country of Vanuatu is the fragile and limited nature of their freshwater sources. As a precaution, water resource officers patrol rivers and other water sources and monitor the river flow to predict droughts or flooding. Water resource employees also conduct water quality testing to ensure that the local and visiting populations are protected from water-borne diseases that plague the area such as scabies, skin diseases and malaria.

Water quality in Vanuatu is constantly and effectively monitored by the government and natural resource employees to ensure that the island’s biggest asset, its natural beauty, remains intact. The island community’s continuous prioritization of water control and resource preservation is extremely effective to combat the issues that many water-locked areas face.

Sarah Coiro

Photo: Flickr

Vanuatu is an island nation located north of Australia in the South Pacific Ocean. It is made up of 83 separate islands and six distinct provinces. Because Vanuatu was occupied by several European nations during its colonial period, it has retained three national languages: English, French and Bislama. Bislama is described as a form of Pidgin English that formed naturally from contact with the French and English; it has become a native language to the islands and is still practiced widely. Even with all the culture from many nations still within the country, education in Vanuatu is unremarkable.

Education in Vanuatu is only compulsory for the first six years of primary education. While the Ministry of Education offers four years of junior secondary education and three years of senior secondary education, after the first six years many students leave their education behind without learning useful skills to benefit their future lives. Some remote tribal areas do not benefit from an education at all.

According to the Nations Encyclopedia, in 1999, 96 percent of primary school-age children were enrolled in school. Although a seemingly promising number, by the end of that same year, only 23 percent of those same students were eligible to attend a secondary school.

The citizens of Vanuatu could be capable of fluency in three languages within their homes and yet the literacy rate is very low, at 64 percent. In an effort to combat this, the Vanuatu Literacy Education Project (VANLEP) or also commonly known as the Book Flood Project, was formed.

The VANLEP program “endeavors to promote and enhance current efforts in upgrading education in [Vanuatu] and… in increasing literacy levels among children living in rural areas.” The program is making efforts to achieve these goals by stimulating learning environments by providing schools with books for children of all ages — known as a book flood. The program also helps to train parents and teachers to be the best they can be in order to help the children learn. The program aims to update the school curriculum and create partnerships with communities and schools to best benefit the children via a communal learning mentality.

Education in Vanuatu has its struggles, but it is making an effort to enlighten and encourage its students to reach their fullest potential. As the literacy rates increase, the entire country will benefit from a full and focused education.

Karyn Adams

Photo: Flickr

Climate Change Refugees
Given the contemporary discussion about refugees, which focuses primarily on those who have been forced from their homes because of conflict or persecution, it is important to evaluate other push factors for refugees around the world. Here are five facts you should know about Vanuatuan refugees — the first climate change refugee.

  1. Officially, Vanuatu has no refugees, either ingoing or outgoing.
    According to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which provides the international legal definition of refugee and establishes states’ responsibilities to them, Vanuatu is not home to any refugees. Vanuatu’s official refugee population reached a high in 2010, with a total refugee population of four.
  2. However, Vanuatu is home to the world’s first “climate change refugees.”
    In 2005, the U.N. Environment Programme reported the forced inland movement of nearly 100 villagers in the province of Tegua in northern Vanuatu, citing the people as the world’s first climate change refugees. People in Vanuatu inhabit 65 of the 80 islands in the archipelago, and many live in coastal cities or villages.
    Because most of the infrastructure of small island nations is located along shallow coasts, countries like Vanuatu are vulnerable to rising sea levels and ever-increasing tropical storms. Since 2005, thousands of Pacific islanders, such as those from Kiribati, have been forced to move to larger islands like Fiji, where they often experience difficulty integrating into society.
  3. This may be just the beginning.
    A 2013 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed that climate change could cause sea levels to rise by as much as 3 feet by 2100. For low-lying island nations, this change could be catastrophic. In Vanuatu, a rise in sea level of this proportion would require the forced relocation of thousands. And Vanuatu wouldn’t be alone; its population of 277,000 represents just a small portion of the hundreds of millions of people around the world who live along coasts.
  4. Open-Source data provides hope and information for potential climate change refugees. Collaboration between the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and the governments of Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa and Papua New Guinea created The Vanuatu Globe. This open-source data platform maps low-lying coastal areas to help citizens and governments alike identify areas facing the greatest risk of coastal flooding from rising sea levels.
    Over 1,000 people accessed the data set within days of Tropical Cyclone Pam in 2015. The platform aided recovery efforts and initiatives to improve infrastructure and prevent future devastation.
  5. Work is being done to prepare in Vanuatu and elsewhere.
    The Capacity Building for the Development of Adaptation Measures in Pacific Island Countries Program, established in 2002, represents just one of many initiatives working with island nations to reinforce infrastructure and make sound development decisions under the looming threat of climate change. Capacity-building programs such as this, complemented by expanded access to mapping data, will help citizens and leaders prepare for large-scale environmental shifts.

Laurel Klafehn

Photo: Flickr

Despite an aggregate economic growth, Vanuatu’s regions are developing unevenly, leaving some areas more vulnerable than others. To achieve its Millennium Development Goal of reducing poverty in Vanuatu from the current rate of 12.7 percent to two percent, both local leaders and international actors need to consider the country’s unique vulnerabilities and strengths.

According to the CIA World Factbook, 26 percent of the population lives in the urban centers of Port Vila (capital) and Luganville. Vanuatu’s population of just over 277,000 inhabits 65 of the 80 islands in the country’s archipelago.

This geography plays a key role in understanding poverty in Vanuatu. According to the U.N. Development Programme, geographic factors create a more statistically significant barrier to energy and basic goods than do vulnerabilities in population such as age, gender or income level.

Vanuatu’s geography is defined by dramatic tropical volcanic mountains that rise from shallow coastlines. It is along these edges that most of Vanuatu’s population lives, either in port towns or rural villages.

Even in a relatively small island nation, the plight of the urban poor and rural poor are not easily delineated. Indeed, different areas experience varied iterations of development. For example, from 2006 to 2010, rates of food poverty (not having sufficient access to basic food goods) declined from approximately five percent to three percent in Port Vila, but increased from approximately two percent to eight percent in Luganville over the same period. Similarly, while average poverty rates in Luganville increased from 2006 to 2010, overall rates of poverty in rural areas fell.

These discrepancies emerge largely because of geographic location, which determines principle economic activities such as fishing and tourism. Access to basic foodstuffs also depends on weather patterns and agricultural production, which are especially interdependent on small, shallow islands.

These coastal communities are threatened by rising sea levels and increasingly frequent tropical storms such as Cyclone Pam, which swept through the Pacific in 2015, destroying up to 96 percent of food crops on some of Vanuatu’s southernmost islands.
Although Vanuatu is susceptible to extreme weather, traditionally sound building practices offer light, but flexible, protection and help. These practices aid in minimizing fatalities in emergencies.

An increase in telecommunication infrastructure also proved to be life-saving. When Cyclone Pam hit, SMS text alerts notified island residents. In many cases, it was the only effective warning system that allowed citizens to prepare accordingly. This access to modern technology can help growing populations confront increasingly frequent extreme weather movements.

Despite these obstacles, the Asian Development Bank reports the overall poverty rate of Vanuatu as low relative to other small nations in the Pacific. Recently, increases in tourism, agricultural production and foreign aid and investment are reflected in Vanuatu’s positive economic growth.

USAID recognizes the delicate geographic circumstances of Pacific islands such as Vanuatu, as nearly 50 percent of the Pacific Islander population lives within a mile of a coastline. USAID is committed to alleviating poverty in Vanuatu by building infrastructure that will withstand pressures from both climate change and extreme weather.

By understanding the unique circumstances of island nations such as Vanuatu, the U.S. and other global economic powerhouses can allocate aid in ways that are both culturally and geographically appropriate, helping to lift these vulnerable populations out of poverty.

– Laurel Klafehn
Photo: Flickr