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Urgent need to tackle Fiji poverty

Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Urgent need to tackle Fiji poverty

Poverty reduction measures must be undertaken in Fiji before things deteriorate to a point of no return, a University economist is warning.

In a paper published in the Journal of Contemporary Fijian Studies this month, Dr Rukmani Gounder researched poverty levels and suggests policy changes needed to tackle them.

Dr Gounder, Associate Professor of Economics at the University’s Manawatu campus, says behind the tranquil blue skies and golden sand lie a huge social and economic downturn.

“Fiji has a paradise image but behind that there are huge problems of poverty,” she says. “In the 1970s about ten per cent of population were living in poverty, increasing to 25 per cent in 1990/1991 and rising to 34.4 per cent in 2002/2003.

“Looking at the poor economic climate since the coups in 1987 and the rising poverty figures, we can assume that up to 40 per cent of the population could now be living in poverty.”

Dr Gounder, who is from Nadi in Fiji, said the country’s poor economic performance, political instabilities and economic crises have pushed more people into poverty without recourse. Falling income, rising malnutrition, poor health, drop in public services, increased pressure on women and violence are some of the actual problems. This leads to a cycle of people falling deeper and deeper into poverty, she says.

“If you do not improve their wellbeing then they are in danger of becoming vulnerable with large numbers of children living in poor conditions, they drop out of school and become street kids,” says Dr Gounder.

“The sugar industry is not performing well and the gold mining has closed down. Tourism has become the key industry but requires political stability to maintain tourist inflow.

“People need to secure livelihoods to improve their circumstances. The lessons of the last three decades give us the chance to rethink and cultivate a genuine public spirit to get to the bottom of the problem and set development priorities.”


ENDS

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