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Innovations in Poverty Eradication in Vanuatu
The nation of Vanuatu, located in the South Pacific, consists of more than 80 individual islands. In 2020, around 16% of the nation lived below the national poverty line, according to the World Bank. As one of the most at-risk countries for natural disasters, frequent cyclones and earthquakes hinder economic development and damage infrastructure. On April 6, 2020, right after Vanuatu closed its borders to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Tropical Cyclone Harold damaged or destroyed about 885 schools. Since about three-fourths of the population lives in rural communities as of 2020, getting adequate relief to these areas after a natural disaster can be challenging. However, with recent innovations in poverty eradication in Vanuatu, access to rural areas and disaster relief are improving.

Disaster-Resilient Food Supply

Natural disasters can sometimes prevent imports of goods into Vanuatu, often limiting the food supply. Vanuatu-based food advocate Votausi Lucyann Mackenzie-Reur tells Devex some Ni-Vanuatu are more dependent on food imports rather than local farming and cooking. So, natural disasters that block imports hit some communities harder, as a strong local food supply is lacking. To create a more disaster-resilient food supply, the TV series “Pacific Island Food Revolution” advertises local foods by hosting cooking competitions among different chefs. The goal of the show is to promote the growth and consumption of local indigenous foods. Local food advocates seek to have a larger local food supply when trade slows, which also benefits the local economy.

Blockchain Technology

Blockchain technology, a platform on which data exists in a secure, “unhackable” setting, is assisting during disaster relief in Vanuatu. Oxfam, a leader in delivering humanitarian assistance, began the UnBlocked Cash initiative in 2019. As of April 2021, the UnBlocked Cash initiative has helped more than 35,000 people receive aid in Vanuatu. Monetary aid received through cards and smartphones gives people more freedom to buy exactly what they need from local businesses, instead of aid groups importing select items. People can buy food, medical necessities, emergency supplies and home rebuilding materials using the aid on blockchain.

So, disaster relief directly involves local businesses in the economy as recipients use blockchain at these locations. In addition, blockchain technology had the benefits of minimizing distribution costs by 75% and decreasing the delivery time of aid by 96%. With this innovation in poverty eradication, aid organizations can almost immediately upload funds to recipients’ accounts for them to use on essentials after a natural disaster.

Drone Technology

With almost 75% of the population living in the rural areas of Vanuatu, some communities may only be accessible by boat or by foot. But through the U.N.’s Office for Coordination of Human Affairs (OCHA), the Digital Humanitarian Network began using drone technology in 2015. With the first use of drones after Cyclone Pam, the technology continues to make rural communities more accessible.

Drones can help map communities after a natural disaster. The drones collect data about a natural disaster’s impacts on infrastructure in certain communities. As a result, aid groups can identify hard-hit places faster and provide the proper aid.

Beyond disaster relief, drone technology is developing to serve other innovations in poverty eradication in Vanuatu. In 2018, the Vanuatu Ministry of Health, along with UNICEF, began using drones to distribute vaccines to rural areas. Before drones, it could take days on boat or foot to reach remote villages. With vaccines needing temperature-controlled storage, some vaccines were unusable by the time they reached some communities.

But now, drones can get to rural communities quickly, while using technology in the storage to ensure the temperature remains at a safe level. Contracting with drone companies Swoop Aero and Wingcopter, the pilot program began by serving 39 rural communities. As a result, children and adults in remote areas of Vanuatu receive essential vaccines that protect their health.

With remote geography and frequent natural disasters, getting aid to parts of Vanuatu can be difficult. But, with recent innovations in poverty eradication in Vanuatu, ranging from TV shows to drones, aid can reach the people of Vanuatu faster.

– Abigail Turner
Photo: Flickr

Vanuatu's Graduation From the LDCsSince the United Nations created the least developed countries (LDCs) list in the 1970s, only six nations have moved off of the list to a higher ranking of development. Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific, became the sixth country to do so on December 4, 2020, after being designated an LDC in 1985. Vanuatu’s graduation from the LDCs list can serve as a beacon of hope for more LDCs to achieve higher rates of development.

Economic Growth

The U.N. Committee for Development Policy (CDP) identifies LDCs based on their level of human assets, environmental and economic vulnerability and per capita income. Since 1991, Vanuatu has met the CDP’s income per capita threshold and was recommended for graduation in 2012, having more than twice the income per capita threshold and also meeting the threshold for human assets. In an effort to pursue graduation, Vanuatu began shifting its economic policies to decrease reliance on imports, increase exports and create employment and income-generating opportunities. Vanuatu’s rural economy grew after improvements in the livestock sector in addition to the country’s diversification of agricultural activities to include timber, kava, coconut oil and copra. The tourism industry and real estate investments were also an aid to Vanuatu’s economic growth as income per person increased by more than 2.5 times between 2002 and 2017.

Vanuatu’s Setbacks

Throughout Vanuatu’s progress in economically developing the country, the nation has also been stymied by recurring natural disasters. The U.N. Conference on Trade and Development estimates that Vanuatu is affected by an average of two to three natural disasters per year and noted that Vanuatu is uniquely affected by natural disasters as its size causes the entirety of the country to be affected as opposed to just specific regions. In 2015, Vanuatu was hit by Cyclone Pam, a Category 5 cyclone that destroyed 50-90% of the country’s shelters and 95% of crops. Cyclone Pam delayed Vanuatu’s previous progress toward graduation and warranted an extension of the country’s grace period to 2020. Additionally, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a decrease in the country’s tourism industry. While Vanuatu’s first case of COVID-19 was reported only in November 2020, the pandemic has impacted the nation and its economic sectors.

A Pathway for LDCs

While Vanuatu is the third country in the Asia-Pacific region to graduate from LDC status, following Samoa in 2014 and the Maldives in 2011, it is only the sixth country to graduate overall. On track to move up from LDC status are Angola in 2021, Bhutan in 2023 and São Tomé and Príncipe and the Solomon Islands both in 2024. Vanuatu’s graduation can bring hope to the other 46 countries on the LDC list, especially given the global circumstances in which Vanuatu achieved this feat. The COVID-19 pandemic has effectively stalled worldwide markets and further excluded many LDCs from international supply chains. With the encouragement of Vanuatu’s graduation from the LDCs list during a global pandemic, hope for the four countries scheduled for graduation in the near future increases alongside support from the international community to ensure an eventual zero countries on the LDCs list.

Caroline Mendoza
Photo: Flickr

Tuvalu Poverty RateConsisting of nine small islands in the South Pacific, Tuvalu is known for its social programs and fiscal resilience. However, the Tuvalu poverty rate remains a large impediment to the nation’s development.

Being one of the smallest countries in the world, the country remains in isolation and depends significantly on imports such as food and fuel. With poor natural resource endowments other than fisheries, the Tuvalu poverty rate can be attributed to the minuscule opportunities for monetary gain and the dependence on the outside world.

The most recent record of the poverty rate in Tuvalu was in 2010, placing 26.3 percent of the country’s population below the poverty line. While poverty has declined in the country since the mid-1990s, the lack of local employment opportunities has manifested in high levels of unemployment, which increases the burden of low earnings.

In addition to low employment rates, climate change has also had a significant effect on the people living on Tuvalu’s islands. A recent study found that a significant proportion of individuals living on the islands suffered monetary losses due to natural disasters. Cyclone Pam, the natural disaster that swept over the island in 2015, proved this, as 45 percent of the nation’s population was displaced due to the storm’s effects.

With the highest point of the Tuvalu islands only reaching 4.6 meters above sea level, the country is vulnerable to and significantly impacted by the increased magnitude and frequency of natural disasters. With the poor investing their earnings in their homes, durable goods and furnishings, they are that much more threatened by storm surges and the floods associated with them.

Therefore, while the poverty rate has been decreasing in recent years across the Tuvalu islands, climate change negatively threatens the future livelihoods of the native population and further deepens the levels of poverty.

With the increasing threat from the waves surrounding the islands, more needs to be done to reduce the chance of future impacts. Aso Ioapa, a citizen from Tuvalu, noted that “We have to face that we might have to go to another place. That is hard. But migration is the last option. We want to save our countries.”

Tuvalu citizens will continue to do just that; save the country they love. The ADB country operations business plan emphasizes this. The 2017-2019 plan aims to improve fiscal management, communication services, and island port facilities while also building disaster resilience for Tuvalu.

If the country continues to improve its employment opportunities and address the climate change issues, the Tuvalu poverty rate will continue to reduce over time.

Tess Hinteregger

Photo: Flickr