Call for more community-led solutions to Pacific poverty
NGOs say better policies and community-led development is needed to alleviate hardship, which affects between 20 and 40 percent of households across the Pacific.
Non-governmental organisations in the Pacific say there must be more emphasis on community-led development and better social policies to alleviate high levels of poverty in the region.
A World Bank report has found 20 to 40 percent of households in the Pacific are unable to meet their basic needs of food, housing, clothing, fuel and medicine.
Mary Baines reports:
The Tongan National Council of Women deputy chair, Uheina Kalaniuvalu, says almost a quarter of households live in poverty there and it's becoming harder for families to make ends meet.
UHEINA KALANIUVALU: The cost of living is going up and up, and the women of Tonga are facing more hardships in trying to provide food for the family. Tonga is relying more and more on import goods. Change has come, and it's very fast. And we're trying to stick to whatever we can do to provide for our families.
The Tongan Civil Society Forum executive director, Emeline Ilolahia, says while the government has good social protection policies in place, more needs to be done at a community level. Ms Ilolahia says emphasis should be put on local, sustainable agricultural and fisheries projects, and getting women and youth into business. She says that will grow the domestic economy, and make Tonga less reliant on imports.
EMELINE ILOLAHIA: For a small country like Tonga, and I think that's similar to other Pacific countries, we just have to go into community-level development. Whatever form, whatever way of engaging, including women and youth in actively participating economically in a much lower level of what some of our development partners and countries expected of a smaller state.
The general secretary of the Solomon Islands National Council of Women, Lorio Sisiolo, says more funds need to be put into rural development projects, because people are flooding to urban centres, where they can't find work and are forced to live in squatter settlements. And she says politicians need to think more about women and children in their decision making. Ms Sisiolo says with this year's national election, there's an opportunity to turn the situation around.
LORIO SISIOLO: We are encouraging women candidates who are contesting the upcoming elections. With the balance of decisions I think the country would be able to make a turn in terms of developing our own communities, increasing the living standard of our own people in the rural areas.
The report says incidence of hardship is highest in Papua New Guinea, at 40 percent. Dame Carol Kidu, who served as minister of community affairs in two Papua New Guinea administrations, says with 7.8 million people, a growth rate of 3.1 percent and 800 languages, there's no easy way of alleviating poverty in PNG.
She says PNG needs to keep working on a social protection framework to look after the elderly, severely disabled and children at risk, as most households would have someone in that category. But she says a lot of policy and legislative change has already been put into place, and implementing it is the real challenge.
DAME CAROL KIDU: Sometimes not enough budgetary support for implementation, sometimes a breakdown in the implementation mechanisms. To actually address this whole issue, we have to continue strengthening a public service, increasing our internal budgets not just development budgets, into these areas that will address hardship and poverty.
A Fiji anti-poverty campaigner at the People's Community Network, Savu Tawake, says hardship in Fiji is much higher than the World Bank's estimation of 35 percent. Mr Tawake says something needs to be done about the high cost of living, low wages, and the lack of financial support from the government given to squatter settlements. He says the government saying it will provide free education, bus fares for children and the elderly and some social welfare benefits is not enough.
SAVU TAWAKE: Increase the social welfare to something that people can afford to buy food, pay school needs for the children, medical needs for the elderly. Of course, increase the participation of the people in the National Budget process, with the inclusion of the view of the poor.
The World Bank report makes a number of recommendations, and suggests they be catered to each country as policy-makers see fit. Those recommendations include more government investment in the management of long-term risks, such as natural disasters and non-communicable diseases, and more effective old-age and disability pensions. The director of Caritas Aotearoa, Julianne Hickey, says governments are aware of the levels of hardship, but quite often they have other priorities. She says it's important for NGOs to get on board.
JULIANNE HICKEY: I think people need to take what has come from this report and say how can governments, NGOs and the local communities work together to identify what those issues are and work together to address them. Whether they're in an urban setting or a rural setting, there are vulnerable communities and we need to build resilience.
The World Bank report also draws on evidence from Tuvalu, Samoa, Kiribati and Vanuatu.
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