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 Although the 1971 Sorcery Law has been repealed, which criminalized sorcery and could be used as a defense in murder trials, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women in 2012 found that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