Comprised of 330 islands in the South Pacific, Fiji is a tropical nation with a population of almost 900,000 and growing. Despite a booming tourism industry, much of the country’s population suffers from poverty and malnourishment. Fortunately, the poverty rate in Fiji is beginning to decline.
The percentage of Fiji’s population living beneath its national poverty line hovers around 30 percent, amounting to a quarter million people, and has remained fairly stationary for the past 10 years. Compared to its South Pacific counterparts, the poverty rate in Fiji is average given its location and circumstances. Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste and Micronesia top the list with rates of about 40 percent. The Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are the wealthiest nations in the South Pacific with poverty rates of 12.7 percent. To put these numbers into perspective, 15 percent of the United States lives in poverty.
Shanty towns, or squatter neighborhoods, rest mere miles outside of Fiji’s luxurious resorts. Impoverished rural citizens often resort to moving into shanty towns in order to find work in urban areas within the tourism industry. Fiji’s sugar production, once another booming industry, is on a slow decline. Because of this, rural workers now have better luck finding work in the cities.
In the past, hunger was a looming issue across the islands of Fiji. A 2004 report stated that approximately 40 percent of Fijian children experienced malnourishment. This figure is high even when compared to the country’s poverty rate as a whole.
Why does Fiji experience such issues? Fiji’s politics were once turbulent and the lack of a strong judiciary system allowed for rampant corruption and misconduct. Education and literacy rates are relatively low, making it difficult for many Fijians to find ample work. Land ownership and leasing are highly restricted, as the government lays claim to about 92 percent of all property. Business ownership is also a difficult venture due to strict regulations, but it is becoming easier as new policy makes an effort to enforce a simpler start-up process.
Luckily, current news regarding Fiji’s poverty and hunger is not so bleak. With record numbers of tourists entering the country, workers are finding jobs now more than ever. With changes in leadership and policy, the government is now more supportive of its constituents. The operations manager of Fiji’s Red Cross Society, Eseroma Ledua, noted that the government supports locals in doing business and educates them to be resilient in potentially troubling future economies.
Continued government reform and an increasing tourist volume are likely to continue the steady decline of the poverty rate in Fiji.
-Emily Van Devender