Human Rights in the Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands is a beautiful group of islands in the South Pacific Ocean where some of World War II’s most intense warfare took place. The nation’s official tourism site says “Step back in time, the islands remain unspoiled.” The Solomon Islands gained independence in 1978, two years after it began governing itself. Today, more than 600,000 people live in this parliamentary democracy. When it comes to the protection of human rights in the Solomon Islands, the nation is fairly successful. However, important failures do occur, such as violence and discrimination against women and unreasonably long pretrial detentions.

Women in the Solomon Islands have struggled to gain a role in the nation’s political discourse. While there are no laws explicitly forbidding women or minorities engagement in the political process, antiquated cultural norms have made it challenging for women to get involved. The nation’s parliament consists of 50 members, yet only one woman. The government wants to fix this and has passed laws aimed to increase the number of women in politics, but so far nothing has been successful.

Violence against women in the Solomon Islands is also quite prevalent. According to a 2011 World Health Organization report, more than 50 percent of women in the Solomon Islands experienced sexual violence by a partner at some point in their life. Incidents like these are often underreported due to women having a number of concerns, such as fear of backlash and concern over breaking a cultural norm.

An inability to swiftly move detainees through the criminal justice system is another failure on the part of the government to protect human rights in the Solomon Islands. In fact, about half of the nation’s prisoner population is made up of pretrial detainees. The U.S. Department of State’s 2016 report on human rights in the Solomon Islands states that the average pretrial detention period lasts for about two years. The Solomon Islands needs to address this problem so that people are not effectively prisoners for an extended period of time before they have had a fair trial.

These are important failures, but it is also important to consider that the Solomon Islands has succeeded in many other ways. Prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards, free speech is well-protected and the most recent election was generally free and fair.

Recently, the Solomon Islands has even taken a step towards becoming a global leader in the fight against human rights violations.  The nation did so by condemning West Papua human rights abuses at the U.N. Human Rights Council.  Some of the human rights violations occurring in West Papua include arrest, torture and the killing of peaceful protestors.  The impact of the Solomon Island‘s statement remains to be seen, but no matter the result, it was a powerful action taken by the nation.

Adam Braunstein

Photo: Flickr

Poverty Rate in the Solomon IslandsIn 1568, Spanish explorer Álvaro de Mendaña became the first European to visit the 992-island archipelago known today as the Solomon Islands. He named the islands after the wealthy and wise biblical king of Israel, inspired, as legend goes, by a belief that their cerulean seas and white-sand shores guarded untold riches. That assumption was largely mistaken, as seen in the poverty rate in the Solomon Islands today.


Exploring the Poverty Rate in the Solomon Islands


Although modern tourism has added to the Islands’ economic portfolio, these profits are still few and far between and unevenly distributed. The vast majority of wealth is concentrated in the capital city, Honiara, in which 85 percent of the population is in the Islands’ highest wealth quintile.

According to the Asian Development Bank, in 2013, 12.7 percent of Solomon Islanders lived below the national poverty line. Nutrition-wise, they fared better: only 4.4 percent lived below the food poverty line. However, a mere 35.1 percent had access to electricity.

Technological developments and investment continue to play a vital role in reducing poverty in the Solomon Islands. In April 2017, the World Bank reported that the Green Climate Fund has approved $86 million toward the Tina River Hydropower Project, an effort to reduce reliance on imported fuel for electricity generation. This investment accompanies the $15 million provided by the International Renewable Energy Agency/Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (IRENA/ADFD).

The Solomon Islands’ electricity retail tariffs are currently among the highest in the world, at $0.65 per kilowatt-hour. Given that the Islands generate 97 percent of their electricity from diesel fuel and only 12 percent of homes are currently connected to grid power, this project stands to reduce the burden on working families and illuminate the islands like never before.

And, with electricity, the Islands should see an economic boost. The Asian Development Bank notes that tourism is a largely untapped market with great potential for development. Cheaper and more abundant energy is good for more than just powering residential areas: it can also lay groundwork for the sort of 24-hour “City of Light” that modern tourism creates and feeds on. With a stronger, cheaper energy grid in place, private investment will follow.

New technology and investments like these, guided by sound and prescient public policy, will be crucial to reducing the poverty rate in the Solomon Islands and materializing those mythical riches dreamed of since the days of de Mendaña.

Chuck Hasenauer

Photo: Flickr

Water and Sanitation in the Solomon IslandsNearly 70 percent of the population of the Solomon Islands lacks access to clean water and proper sanitation facilities. This archipelago comprises almost a thousand islands in the South Pacific Ocean and only has a population of 583,600.

There are disparities in access to water and sanitation in the Solomon Islands between urban and rural areas. Rural areas house 80 percent of the population (480,000), and there is a relative lack of water and sanitation services. In fact, nearly 70 percent of the population does not have access to appropriate sanitation services.

However, a study from 2007 concluded that 97 percent of urban areas compared to 65 percent of rural areas had access to clean water supply. A similar, but much greater disparity is present in access to sanitation facilities. In 2007, 98 percent of urban areas and 18 percent of rural areas had access to sanitation facilities.

The quality of the Solomon Islands’ urban water did not achieve The World Health Organization’s drinking water standards in 2007. Drinking water with unsafe levels of contamination has adverse effects on health and can cause diarrhea and other water-borne diseases. In 2002, diarrheal diseases accounted for seven percent of mortalities in the Solomon Islands.

In 2015, 93 percent of urban areas and 77 percent of rural areas gained access to improved water sources. This data indicates that the disparity in access to water between urban and rural areas has narrowed. Access to improved, private sanitation facilities in urban areas (72 percent) was disproportionately greater than access in rural areas (8 percent) in 2015.

Without sanitation facilities or access to working toilets or latrines, people’s only option is open defecation. Open defecation and the absence of washing facilities are associated with poor hygiene and an increased risk for skin and eye infections as well as mosquito-borne diseases, like malaria and dengue fever. A lack of private sanitation facilities is also linked to higher incidences of physical and sexual violence. When people—especially women—go outside to bathe and defecate, their vulnerability to violence increases.

A government initiative to improve hygiene, water and sanitation in the Solomon Islands is included in the Solomon Islands Red Cross Society Strategic Plan for 2017 to 2020. If the Red Cross Society Strategic Plan’s target of helping 200,000 people with water, hygiene and sanitation is reached, the results could improve health outcomes and the lives of people in the Solomon Islands.

Gabrielle Doran

Photo: Flickr

Education in the Solomon Islands is difficult to access for youth, creating a huge hurdle for the island nation. As a country made up of more than 300 inhabited islands, the challenge of attending school across the islands means around 20 percent of children are out of school. Uneven population distribution makes providing educational services difficult at best, and in the 2003 conflict, many schools were burnt down and teachers and students fled the violence.

As the number of out-of-school young people has increased, the Solomon Islands has seen a parallel increase in political violence as youth have found an outlet for their frustration in riots, crime and violence. A 2005 study by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found that under-18 youth were being recruited by armed groups. This prompted the creation of a peace education module, a community-based model bringing together educators, young people, community leaders and NGO’s. The program’s purpose is to foster understanding of peace, conflict and good governance. To address the tension and positively re-engage youth, the government and NGOs have increased their focus on education in the Solomon Islands as an impactful way to promote peace measures.

To address the tension and positively re-engage youth, the government and NGOs have increased their focus on education in the Solomon Islands as an impactful way to promote peace measures.

The content of the educational curriculum is being thoughtfully reconsidered, as it is cited as a potential causal factor in the Islands’ conflicts. A perceived divide between traditional customs and skills and colonial Western-style curricula has encouraged educators to innovate, implementing the use of native languages in schools and diversifying teaching materials on history, religion and culture.

In order for the peace modules and curriculum innovations to succeed, school enrollment and completion rates must improve. As of 2012, Education Policy and Data Center (EPDC) statistics show a high enrollment of both young boys and girls in primary school, with a net enrollment rate of 81 percent and a primary completion rate of 85 percent. However, only 72 percent of students were continuing their education in the Solomon Islands and enrolling in lower secondary school.

Since then, the hard work of local actors such as the Solomon Islands’ Curricular Development Division, church organizations and local women’s groups has demonstrated great commitment to making school more accessible. Partnerships with organizations including UNICEF, the New Zealand Agency for International Development and Save the Children have supported these efforts, and these powerful collaborations are rebuilding and innovating current educational structures.

In fact, based off of 2000-2010 education trends in the Solomon Islands, the Education Policy and Data Center predicts a 100 percent enrollment rate for primary and lower secondary students by the year 2025. By engaging every young person, education in the Solomon Islands will hopefully reduce conflict and promote peace. As long as aid funding and the government’s commitment to education continues, delivering culturally relevant, quality education can be a reality for the Solomon Islands in a few years.

Irena Huang

Photo: Flickr

Economic Growth in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu
There is great potential for economic growth in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu according to a thorough analysis from the islands’ new representative. The representative, Guido Rurangwa, is overseeing nine different projects across the two countries that will be equal to $164.47 million or more as time goes on and relationships deepen.

The projects in both countries will cover a variety of issues such as youth employment and training, renewable energy, disaster resilience, climate and more. An example of this is the Infrastructure Reconstruction and Improvement Project in Vanuatu. The project, which was approved on June 17, 2016 and will last until April 30, 2022, aims to reconstruct and improve certain areas of Vanuatu hit especially hard by Cyclone Pam. This assistance will provide immediate responses to emergencies.

A key project in the Solomon Islands is the Rural Development Program II, which has been in place since Nov. 21, 2014. This project’s goal is to improve basic infrastructure to rural areas in an attempt to establish links between small-scale farmers and markets. The project will also help rebuild production quality after flash floods that hurt numerous farms in April 2014. The project will close on Feb. 28, 2020.

Rurangwa’s analysis is extremely trusted because of his long history with the World Bank and years of experience in the field. Rurangwa joined the World Bank in May 2001 as an economist in the Macroeconomic and Fiscal Department. Since then, he has advanced to numerous other ranks and positions, such as senior economist for Rwanda, his home nation, and senior country economist for Egypt.

This new information proves to be good news for the Solomon Islands based on the history of their economy. A majority of the population of the Solomon Islands live in small, rural villages, engaging in agriculture to sustain themselves and cash economy. The country’s economy almost collapsed in 2000, when the country suffered from a coup due to civil unrest. Even a large number of secondary schools provide agricultural training to students.

Vanuatu’s economy shares similar characteristics with the Solomon Islands’ economy. Also based mostly on subsistence farming, Vanuatu’s main exports include kava, cocoa and more, which are traded with many European nations and countries like Australia and New Zealand. The country does boast a bit more success than the Solomon Islands with tourism and offshore financial services.

The World Bank may also be a contributing factor to the economic growth in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. With 13 active World Bank projects in the Solomon Islands and 10 active projects in Vanuatu, both countries possess a future filled with opportunity and growth.

Ashley Morefield

Photo: Flickr

A child’s diet for the first 1,000 days of their life is crucial to developing both mentally and physically. Unfortunately, one-third of children under the age of five in the Solomon Islands are considered stunted—too small for their age due to malnutrition. Children who are stunted are often more susceptible to infections and diseases.

The Solomon Islands are not short on food resources.  There is a plethora of fish and sea food available; however, it is common for families to not have the funds required to purchase fresh fish or even canned tuna. Of the citizens who live in rural areas, 60 percent rely on food that they grow themselves. The Solomon Islands have ideal conditions for agriculture; however, those living in urban areas do not have access to land and are forced to purchase overpriced food that they simply cannot afford.

According to the Solomon Islands National Statistical Office, many people suffer from “hidden hunger,” meaning while things might not look physically dire, they are actually desperately lacking the proper nutrition to live long, healthy lives.

Solomon Island communities try to look out for each other and share food. Not only do the citizens highly value their family and friends, they also have their own “wantok”—their neighbors and extended family—who they share cheap food with. The cheapest foods can be bought in bulk like rice and noodles, but it can be very dangerous to live off these foods alone. The people of the Solomon Islands experience high rates of anemia and diarrhea from their lack of proper nutrition.

Also contributing to the lack of proper nutrients is overpopulation; the population of the Solomon Islands grows by 2.8 percent each year. More and more people are in need of food, with less and less of it being available due to the small income the islanders receive. Addressing this problem will involve taking a hard look at the economy and finding a way for citizens to receive an adequate income capable of consistently sustaining them.

– Melissa Binns

Photo: Flickr

Solomon EducationWhat if you did not have to go to school? For some school-aged children in America, this might be a dream, but for the children of the Solomon Islands, it is a nightmare—and a reality. Due to their high poverty rate, the Solomon Islands do not make education a requirement. Only 2.2 percent of the government’s budget goes toward education, dropping drastically from its 9.7 percent in 1998. Only 60 percent of children even have access to any kind of primary education.

Of those 60 percent, only 72 percent of students complete their primary education. As for secondary school, the current numbers show 32 percent of boys attend, while 27 percent of girls do. Since there are so little resources, students have to take an exam to continue on to secondary school. Depending on their score, they can either be placed into secondary school or not score high enough to earn one of the few positions available.

These statistics all contribute to the 75 percent adult illiteracy rate. While education is not compulsory in the Solomon Islands, it is free for at least primary school. So, why are these numbers showing up?

The Solomon Islands had a civil war from 1998-2003, and once the country began to gain its footing again, a devastating tsunami hit in 2007. These events have only add to the hardships the people of the Solomon Islands face. Since adults have no educational background, the main source of income is through agriculture and farming. This can only get a family by for so long, and many children work alongside their families in lieu of going to school.

If a child does attend school, he or she has to deal with a shortage of teachers and classroom materials. Not only are half of all teachers unqualified, but they also struggle to receive payment for their services. In addition, less than half of the schools have access to adequate drinking water. Hopefully, the government will prioritize education in the coming years and break the cycle of poverty in the Solomon Islands.

– Melissa Binns

Sources: Classbase,  Education in Crisis,  ICDE

Photo: Flickr

Solomon Islands Diarrhea Outbreak
The nation of Solomon Islands is facing a new and deadly threat after flooding destroyed delicate water infrastructure. The Solomon Islands diarrhea outbreak has already killed 18 people and threatens to claim more lives if measures are not taken soon.

Solomon Islands was decimated in early April by a series of destructive floods. The small nation, located north and east off the coast of Queensland, Australia, saw 60,000 of its residents made homeless by the storms—over 10 percent of its population.

The flood’s direct damage to human life was great enough, but two months later, outbreaks of diarrhea in late May and early June are extending the death toll. The rotavirus, a deadly and highly-contagious virus transmitted by vomit and fecal matter, has claimed victims in six of Solomon Islands’ ten provinces.

The virus is communicable by food, drink and, depending on the sick person’s hygiene, basic physical contact. Those who contract the virus show symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea within 1-3 days of infection.

Though upward of 20,000 children were vaccinated against the rotavirus following April’s flooding, the contamination of Solomon Islanders’ water supply was complete enough that over 1,000 cases of extreme diarrhea have been reported in the past two weeks. Most of the infected are young, and all 18 of the reported deaths have been children under the age of 5.

Rotavirus causes intense diarrhea, which in turn leads to severe dehydration. If untreated, this dehydration can kill. At a certain point, children simply stop drinking water despite their desperate need for it, and proper medical intervention is required to save a child’s life.

Fortunately, UNICEF is fighting the Solomon Islands diarrhea outbreak with two very basic tools: soap and information. The soap is distributed in the hardest-hit areas, and colorful, hand-shaped information cards are also given out. These cards not only emphasize the importance of hand-washing by their shape, but they also contain valuable tips for staying safe and healthy during the outbreak.

Instructions for preventing the spread of the rotavirus include washing hands for at least 10 seconds after using the toilet, before handling or eating food and after caring for or coming into contact with any infected individuals.

Health officials currently do not plan on bringing the rotavirus vaccine back to Solomon Islands. Instead, they predict that proper hygiene should be enough to put an end to the outbreak.

In the meantime, parents who notice signs of illness in their children are urged to bring them to a doctor right away. Doctors can provide a child with oral rehydration salts and zinc tablets, both of which help prevent dehydration and can reverse even severe cases.

However, this safety net may not be so reliable. Dorothy Wickham, correspondent for Radio New Zealand, reports that hospitals in Solomon Islands are becoming overburdened. Doctors may not be able to treat all of the children who are brought in, and epidemiologist Jennie Musto predicts the outbreak could last up to another month.

For now, both parents and aid groups are doing what they can to combat the outbreak and to keep their children safe.

– Patricia Mackey

Sources: World Vision, WHO, Australia Network News, 3 News, Radio New Zealand International, Pacific Scoop
Photo: Parade

Early Warning Systems are Not Just for Earthquakes
When political crises happen or human rights are being destroyed, the use of smart phones and other technology to spread the word is critical. What about when natural disasters strike? When a family has minutes to evacuate before a tsunami wipes out their village, do they take a picture or tweet about it? No. But the World Health Organization, in cooperation with national and local governments, and by demand of citizens in crisis and an outcry for better preventative measures, is working on building better early warning systems for post-disaster epidemics. The technology? A boat, a bike, your boots. Also needed: a pencil, paper, and your determination.

Recently in the Solomon Islands the immense destructive forces of the 6 February 2013 8.0 magnitude earthquake and pursuant 3m tsunami left thousands of people without homes and brought down the health care system.

The Solomon Islands consist of 1,000 islands off the South Pacific and are home to 550,000 people. The destructive power of the February earthquake left thousands vulnerable to diseases due to the broken health care system. 5500 residents required temporary living shelters. These shelters are often plagued by poor sanitation due to lack of resources and cramped living quarters. Poor sanitation leads to a plethora of preventable diseases—most of which associated with diarrhea.

Taking a queue from the early warning systems set up to warn of impending natural disaster, the World Health Organization worked with the Ministry of Health of the Solomon Islands to set up an early warning system to identify outbreaks, unusual outbreak patterns, and the number of people affected. This is a critical step towards disaster recovery and decreasing the vulnerability of those affected.

Developing the surveillance system presented logistical challenges of connecting vulnerable people to health clinics. Five clinics were set up around Santa Cruz, the main island that was affected. The head nurses, “doubled as boat captains,” connected patients to clinics. Traveling from surveillance sites to the clinics is risky. Poor weather, no lights on the boats, dangerous landing sites and navigational skill are all impediments to the surveillance system. For Solomon Islanders, these risks are necessarily overcome because full coverage is absolutely necessary for the system to work.

The WHO works with the clinics to make sure all the information necessary to identifying and preventing large-scale outbreaks is included in an accessible way. The successful system, now fully functional, has collected data, identified risky areas, and has quickly responded to problems.

The WHO initiative in the Solomon Islands is not unique and neither is their geography. There are 52 developing island nations in the world. These nations carry a disproportionate risk imposed by earthquakes and tsunamis and break down of health systems. Early warning health systems are a part of a larger global strategy to minimize post-natural disaster vulnerability. The WHO works with governments to create a Global Risk and Response system. The main activities include working with governments to set up early warning systems and develop laboratory capacities to handle large amounts of biological material—all of which requires bio-security to keep potential diseases from escaping. Training for and building response strategy plans is also a main function of the WHO’s Global Alert and Response (GAR) system. Seasonally, the GAR supports governments in climate related disease preparedness and creates standardized approaches to climate related diseases such as influenza and malaria.

Katherine Zobre

Sources: Wikipedia, WHO , WHO