Poverty reduction in MontserratMontserrat, a British overseas territory in the Eastern Caribbean with a population of only 4,500 has faced significant challenges with regard to poverty reduction. Once a self-sufficient agricultural island, volcanic activity crippled Montserrat’s economy in the late 1990s. Consequently, poverty in the country skyrocketed. And this has necessitated effective poverty reduction in Montserrat to address low rates of employment and limited opportunities for young people.

Rates and Causes of Poverty

Montserrat has the highest rate of poverty in the Eastern Caribbean region, with more than 36% of the population living in poverty. While remote small island nations are inherently more vulnerable to global economic variability and struggle to develop due to insularity, size and remoteness, Montserrat’s unique circumstances further amplify these general challenges.
The infamous eruptions of the Soufriere Hills volcano between 1995 and 1997 have had profound and enduring impacts on livelihoods and food security across Montserrat. These eruptions resulted in the destruction of 60% of habitable land and 70% of agricultural land and prompted the emigration of half of the population. As a result, the island’s remaining population faces a loss of income from agriculture, a drastically reduced working population and long-term food insecurity.
Montserrat is a multi-hazard hotspot, as the island is prone to a variety of natural disasters. The tectonically active island experiences fairly regular low-impact tectonic hazards such as earthquakes. It also suffers from ash fall, acid rain and frequent tropical storms. This combination of hazards has hindered the development and recovery of Montserrat and has reduced the resilience of essential services and infrastructure. Unfortunately, projections suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic may lead to an increase in extreme poverty on the island from pre-pandemic levels of 3% to around 17%.

Child Poverty

Of Montserrat’s impoverished population, a staggering 47% fall between the ages of 0 and 17. Ending child poverty is crucial, as hardship in these formative years increases the risk of unemployment, criminal activity and substance abuse, all of which perpetuate cycles of intergenerational poverty.
Several factors contribute to the high rate of child poverty in Montserrat. For instance, unpredictable regular closures of schools caused by low-impact volcanic hazards disrupt and undermine the consistency of education for children. Most importantly, however, Montserrat’s economy has never recovered adequately from the tectonic disasters of the 1990s and the country remains heavily dependent on foreign aid. As a result, the severe lack of opportunities hinders young people’s ability to break free from cycles of poverty unless they choose to emigrate.
Montserrat’s young population is likely to suffer disproportionately from the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19. Estimates suggest that the pandemic could cause severe child poverty in the Eastern Caribbean region to rise from 4% to 26%. With children in Montserrat already facing a higher level of poverty and lack of opportunity than their regional counterparts, the impacts of the pandemic could impede the island nation’s development for decades to come.

Poverty Reduction in Montserrat

A 2021 UNICEF report on the well-being of Montserrat’s youth presented a series of recommendations that may encourage youth poverty reduction in Montserrat. One of these recommendations involved expanding technical and vocational education and training, aligning this with the nation’s market and available opportunities. Alongside market-driven training, the report revealed that it is crucial to expand opportunities for young people, discouraging migration and encouraging development and growth. This is to facilitate long-term poverty reduction in Montserrat.
The Government of Montserrat has been actively working to address these areas. In April 2022, the leader of the government spoke on Radio Montserrat about the attractions of working remotely in the country. Premier Joseph Farrell highlighted that as people around the world sought changes in scenery following the pandemic, an island nation such as Montserrat may provide the perfect location for working remotely. Farrell drew attention to the fact that major names in the music world, such as Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney and Elton John, had worked and produced music in Montserrat.
Tourism is another important source of revenue for Montserrat that could provide increased income and opportunity. Following a sharp decline after authorities declared the island unsafe for tourists in the late 1990s, there was a fairly consistent growth of tourism in Montserrat between 2010 and 2019, peaking at 21,000 arrivals in 2019. However, the sector is yet to recover fully from the pandemic, with only 5000 tourists visiting the island in 2022. The government of Montserrat has sought to increase income from tourism through the establishment of new seaside tourism zones and new hiking trails to see the volcano. Additionally, it has invested in improved marketing to draw the global audience’s attention to the unique experiences Montserrat offers.

The Future

Montserrat has not been able to recover significantly since the eruptions of the Soufriere Hills volcano in the 1990s, but its government continues working to resolve existing challenges. Ongoing efforts suggest a need to focus on creating work opportunities and increasing disposable income amongst the working population. The implementation of these approaches could hold great promise for the youth of Montserrat. By diminishing the incentives to leave in search of work and establishing a sense of empowerment and opportunity, young people could break free from intergenerational cycles of poverty.

– Polly Walton