Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Montserrat

Montserrat is located in the Lesser Antilles chain and is a British owned island filled with lush green fields and mountainous landscapes. However, due to the island’s location, living conditions can be hectic. Here are the top 10 facts about living conditions in Montserrat.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Montserrat

  1. Natural Disasters: Before 1995, the island was home to over 11,000 people. However, after the eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano, destruction ensued. The volcano killed dozens and 7,000 people evacuated the island, leaving nearly half the island desecrated and abandoned. Since the volcanoes, however, more than 1,000 people have moved back to Montserrat, raising the population to 5,215. The impact of this volcano has proven to be detrimental to Montserrat’s economy. Montserrat had to close airports and seaports which made the country lose tourist dollars. The agricultural district continues to underperform due to the lack of suitable land and the destruction of crops. The hurricane season lasts between June and November, and extremely stormy weather does occur outside this period. Natural disasters have put The population of Montserrat under great strain and it has gotten so bad that now only a third of the island is inhabitable.
  2. Language and Culture: The dominant language in Montserrat is English and the people of Montserrat use other variations of English such as Creole English and Ebonics as well. The culture is a mixture of African, British and Irish culture although some North American culture has seeped into the island recently. The population consists of mostly those of African descent with small amounts of Europeans.
  3. Economics: Tourism and agriculture were previously the most prominent economic activities. However, due to the devastation of the volcanoes in the 1990s, people had to abandon Plymouth, which was the main commercial center. Since then, Montserrat has relied heavily on British and Canadian aid to rebuild infrastructure and provide services such as quarrying and mining. The common currency used is provided by the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (East Carribean dollar). The eruption has damaged a major chunk of the agricultural land but farmers are still able to produce potatoes, onions and other vegetables, as well as sell into the domestic market.  According to the 2012 Country Poverty Assessment, 36 percent of the population is considered poor with children as young as 15 or even younger experiencing the highest poverty rate and accounting for a third of the poor population.
  4. Government: Montserrat is a parliamentary democracy and a constitutional monarchy. A governor elected by the monarch represents the British crown. The person in charge of the government itself is the Premier who the governor chooses. This makes Montserrat self-governing territory of the U.K. Montserrat introduced universal suffrage in 1951, meaning that anyone 18 or above can vote. Furthermore, elections for the Legislative Assembly occur every five years. A large number of the population (71.06 percent) in Montserrat is registered to vote.
  5. Education: One of the most interesting of the top 10 facts about living conditions in Montserrat is its education status. Despite the volcanic devastation, out of the 5,215 citizens ages 10 to 70, 96.5 percent are literate. Before the volcano, Montserrat spent 20 percent of its budget on education but now only allocates eight percent of its budget to education. Primary school enrollment is nearly 100 percent and lasts from ages five to 12.  Secondary lasts from ages 12 to 16 and Tertiary lasts from ages 17 to 21. As of 2017, no student in Montserrat has had to repeat coursework. Public and private schools are available for enrollment. According to UNICEF, 55 percent of students enrolled in secondary schools in Montserrat do not feel safe. There is a heavy prevalence of threats, bullying and fights mostly among men and less against women. The Montserrat Technical College, Montserrat College of Art, and the University of the West Indies offers technical and vocational education for those who graduate from secondary school. The island itself is unfortunately too poor to afford its own university but it offers many opportunities to study abroad in the U.S., Canada, or the U.K. Most students will study abroad and then seldom move back home.
  6. Nutrition: According to the Caribbean Food and Nutrition Institute’s 2010 survey, among children aged zero to five years old, 20.8 percent of boys and 17.4 percent of girls were at high risk of being overweight, 8.3 percent of boys and 7.2 percent of girls were actually overweight and 5.6 percent of boys and 2.9 percent of girls were obese. Between 2009 and 2010, there were 36 anemia related hospitalizations affecting citizens between age groups of 15-75 and older.
  7. Health: Despite the fact that Montserrat has an effective primary health care system, basic secondary care services are only available at one hospital and there are no tertiary facilities available.  Due to this, Montserrat has promised to give its residents access to secondary and tertiary health care at affordable prices by 2050. Meanwhile, citizens who need tertiary health care can attend off-island centers for care. The number of deaths per year has averaged 44 between 2010 and 2015. In 2015, Montserrat suffered 49 deaths and 86 percent were persons aged 60 and over. The leading causes involved the circulatory system, endocrine and neoplasm diseases. Diabetes mellitus and heart diseases are also leading specific causes.
  8. Unemployment: According to the 2019 Labor Force Census conducted by the Montserrat government, 176 citizens in Montserrat are unemployed. This puts the unemployment rate at 6.5 percent. Among the male population, around 7.2 percent are unemployed and more than five percent of females are unemployed. The youth unemployment rate (ages 15 to 24) is at 11.8 percent.
  9. Access to Services: A large amount of the Montserrat population (99 percent) has access to healthy, clean drinking water and 82.9 percent have access to proper sanitation facilities. Hepatitis A and Typhoid can be contracted through contaminated water and are a risk in Montserrat.
  10. Life Expectancy: The total life expectancy in Montserrat is 74.8 years (73.5 years for women and 76.1 years for men). Some of the population (10.2 percent) suffers from diabetes mellitus and 64 percent of the population consumes alcohol.

Solutions

Montserrat received $15.66 million under the 10th EDF Montserrat as general budget support for the 12-year Sustainable Development Plan. This was to help improve its economy. In January 2013, the EU also gave Montserrat a $55.2 million aid package to boost economic recovery with a specific focus on public finance, reform and economic management.

After the volcanoes that devastated the land, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency along with other organizations worked together to provide relief for all citizens affected by the volcanoes. It helped people evacuate from active volcano areas and began housing 200 people in an unfinished multi-purpose center and providing food to them and other citizens of need.

The top 10 facts about Montserrat offer awareness to a country that is going through major repairs. It is no secret that after the destruction of the various volcanic eruptions that took place in the 1990s, Montserrat has undergone a major transformation because of this. Life for the Montserratians has not gotten any easier but with major aid from Britain and Canada, the government is able to put reforms in place and bring the economy back to what it once was without its former capital. While Montserrat has a long way to go, the island will become stronger and better than what it once was with the changes in place. 

– Carrington Peavy
Photo: Flickr