Hunger in Montserrat

Located in the Lesser Antilles region of the Caribbean Sea, Montserrat is a tiny British overseas territory with a population of less than 6,000. After a series of volcanic eruptions in the late 1990s, the island became more difficult to reach. Even today, it is relatively isolated compared to other tourist-oriented Caribbean islands, but there are a growing number of tourists coming to see the “Caribbean Pompeii”.

The economy of Montserrat today is based mostly on service and construction due to the impact of both Hurricane Hugo and the severe volcanic eruptions that began in July 1995. The city of Plymouth was covered with ashes and boulders, and even though it is not completely reconstructed, it is still officially the capital of the island. Approximately two-thirds of the inhabitants fled the island to escape hunger and general insecurity in Plymouth area. Some of them still live in poor housing, struggling with their economic situation after the loss of their homes, incomes and family members.

The economic downturn after the hurricane increased unemployment, reduced working hours and increased pressure on household budgets. There is widespread criticism of the government’s performance, ranging from the failure to control prices or reduce taxes to the perception that administration only takes care of their own employees.

A 2007 study of poverty and hardship called “Montserrat Survey of Living Conditions” (MSLC) and research undertaken by the World Bank showed that economic factors are the main causes of poverty in Montserrat. According to the International Comparisons of Poverty table, 36 percent of the population is poor and 34 percent are food insecure. Children are the most vulnerable in general, and make up a third of the population affected by hunger in Montserrat.

Hunger in Montserrat is caused by high food prices, low wages and lack of employment opportunities. Many families are struggling to buy food every day and educate their children. This stress is made worse by high rates of criminal behavior, domestic violence and drug abuse. Because of the situation, many inhabitants have left the island to find work or to join their families in Britain.

Even though there are no opportunities for rapid economic growth in Montserrat, some government initiatives in the past few years, like the establishment of the Montserrat Development Corporation, promise to be beneficial for everyone.

The Department of Agriculture has several potential projects in the works, and there are plans to increase the number of small companies. The Ministry of Health and Wealth offers a number of services to the poor and vulnerable, including social assistance in cash and counseling for the poor.

Even though the general number of people affected by hunger in Montserrat remains high, some overall progress has been made in lowering the rate of extreme poverty. Most households have access to basic services and women are being empowered with educational programs. The government elected in 2014 is now investing in geothermal energy, tourism and sand mining. In an interview with The Guardian, premier Donaldson Romero declared that the “long, hopeless period” that started after the eruptions is finally over.

Edita Jakupovic

Photo: Flickr