The Solomon Islands is comprised of 992 Melanesian islands lying to the East of Papua New Guinea and North-west of Vanuatu. The nation is therefore archipelagic, stretching across 1 300 square kilometres of ocean. Honiara is the capital city, located on the island province of Guadalcanal.
Due to distances between islands, cultural difference is varied between tribal groups. English is the official language, however only 1-2% of Solomon Islander’s speak it fluently. Instead, 120 indigenous languages are spoken of which Melanesian pidgin is most common. 96% of locals are adhere to a Christian denomination.
High population growth rates of 2.07 (2014 est.) combined with rural-urban migration place increasing pressure on water, sanitation, housing, education and health services in urban areas. However, a 79% majority still live in rural areas, and overall population density is just 17 people per square kilometer.
In terms of ethnicity, 95% of citizens are ethnically Melanesian with the remainder mostly Polynesian or Micronesian. The age-structure is significantly bottom-heavy with a youth dependency ratio alarmingly high at 70%.
Solomon Islands was formerly under a British protectorate (from 1900) before becoming independent in 1978. Since then, the nation has been internationally recognised as a sovereign state with a self-ruling government based on the British Parliamentary system. Civil law runs concurrently with traditional customs which occasionally leads to conflicts of interest within the hierarchy of law.
Between 1998 and 2003 ethnic violence, crime and corruption undermined state stability. This conflict substantially pushed back developmental progress and had a crippling effect on the economy. Peace was restored with the arrival of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) but remnants of the tension still flare up on occasion. Governance regarding violence and conflict are in infancy.
80% of Solomon Islanders live their life at subsistence level, relying on agriculture and fishing according to traditional livelihoods. Despite the unusually high sea-to-land ratio, more of the formal economy relies on terrestrial resources than aquatic. Major exports include timber, copra, palm oil, fish and cooca.
Since economic collapse in the early 2000’s, growth has been positive yet modest as the economy has progressed in small, measured steps. Even so, the nation is categorised as a Least Developed Country.
- Education and literacy – Only 60% of children have access to education, and school is not compulsory. A very basic Fee Free Education Scheme is in place to cover operational costs of schools but does not cover students beyond grade 10, resulting in high dropouts with often inadequate vocational training for the workforce. The national education budget was severely compromised during the internal economic crisis which saw class sizes grow larger and child labour increase. The Department of Education’s plans to expand educational institutions and increase attendance have been hampered by lack of funding, poor-coordination of teacher-training programs and a failure of the government to pay teacher wages. Overall literacy sits at approximately 84.1% and indicators show that females are less likely to complete high school than males.
- Gender inequality – Asset and income disparities are highly influenced by inequitable educational and employment opportunities. Whilst women have a higher life expectancy, they are less likely to be fully literate, pursue tertiary education, enter the formal labour force and attain earnings as high as males for same work. Women rarely occupy senior level jobs; the current cabinet has no women at all.
- Child Labour – As a byproduct or perhaps cause of low school enrolment rates, it is a sad reality that many children and youth end up being engaged in child labour, particularly sexual exploitation. This trend is true of both males and females, predominantly in areas close to logging camps, fishing ports and areas of high tourism.
- Natural Disasters – Floods, typhoons and volcanic eruptions threaten much of the country’s landmass. Most recently, an earthquake struck the Western region in 2007 killing 52 people and disturbing the livelihoods of 36 500. Disaster Risk Reduction is high a priority, but the expanses between the dispersed population make efficient delivery of health care and social services difficult. To further complicate matters, malaria prevalence across Solomon Islands is one the highest in the world.
CIA WorldFact Book - https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/in.html
United Nations Development Programme - http://www.undp.org/content/dam/fiji/docs/Final_SI_MDG.pdf