Half of Fiji's population is experiencing extreme financial hardship

Wednesday July 01, 2020 Written by Dominic Godfrey, RNZ Pacific Journalist Published in Small World
In Fiji, there are growing fears of a humanitarian crisis, particularly for people in the west who live in informal settlement, some still damaged after Cyclone Winston in 2016. Photo: RNZI / Sally Round In Fiji, there are growing fears of a humanitarian crisis, particularly for people in the west who live in informal settlement, some still damaged after Cyclone Winston in 2016. Photo: RNZI / Sally Round

Half of Fiji's population is experiencing extreme financial hardship due to the effects of Covid-19, RNZP reports.

A coalition of NGOs says the pandemic has been a disaster for the country with the tourism sector shedding 100,000 jobs in the tourism-dependent country.

The rural development organisation FRIEND says the job losses each represent a household of four people, which accounts for half the country's bread winners.

FRIEND's chief executive Sashi Kiran said that doesn't take into account the informal sector.

"We've had massive layoffs, from Airports Fiji, Fiji Airways, lots and lots of companies," she said.

"Pretty much the entire tourism sector has closed down and we are told the tourism sector employs something like 120,000 people."

That's a major portion in a national population of 880,000, with the losses mostly in the Western Division.

Lautoka based FRIEND mobilised in March when the town went into coronavirus lockdown.

Sashi Kiran said they've been running food banks and helping people into new livelihoods, but resources are scarce and this kind of assistance is really the job of the government.

"Somehow or other we're not hearing the national leaders speak about the problem of food requirements, poverty, about the challenges that hundreds and thousands of people are facing right now," she said.

Ms Kiran invited other civil society NGOs to the Western Division to see the humanitarian crisis unfold in towns like Nadi, Sigatoka and Lautoka.

They've since formed an alliance, and are calling on the state to rollout a plan to diversify the workforce.

"Because we know tourism is not going to happen overnight," she said.

"But the messaging that keeps coming about tourism is to put people on stand-by like they're not doing anything else because they're thinking, oh this tourism bubble will come about."

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama's concept of a so-called "Bula Bubble" with Australia and New Zealand has met with a lukewarm response, with Canberra signaling a travel ban could last until next year.

Ms Kiran said beyond using people's retirement savings there is no plan and those without superannuation or from the informal sector are in dire straits.

She says those with access to land are planting food gardens but many live in urban settlements and are largely dependent on their food banks in Lautoka and Nadi.

A nutritional crisis is looming, Ms Kiran said.

"Fifty percent of kids in school for example at five years old are malnourished. Eighty percent of our kids below the age of two, as per the national nutrition survey, are anaemic, were anaemic pre-Covid."

The Fiji Women's Crisis Centre is also part of the alliance.

Its coordinator Shamima Ali said stresses on families are manifesting physically.

"Because we know tourism is not going to happen overnight," she said.

"But the messaging that keeps coming about tourism is to put people on stand-by like they're not doing anything else because they're thinking, oh this tourism bubble will come about."

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama's concept of a so-called "Bula Bubble" with Australia and New Zealand has met with a lukewarm response, with Canberra signaling a travel ban could last until next year.

Ms Kiran said beyond using people's retirement savings there is no plan and those without superannuation or from the informal sector are in dire straits.

She says those with access to land are planting food gardens but many live in urban settlements and are largely dependent on their food banks in Lautoka and Nadi.

A nutritional crisis is looming, Ms Kiran said.

"Fifty percent of kids in school for example at five years old are malnourished. Eighty percent of our kids below the age of two, as per the national nutrition survey, are anaemic, were anaemic pre-Covid."

The Fiji Women's Crisis Centre is also part of the alliance.

Its coordinator Shamima Ali said stresses on families are manifesting physically.

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