Killer facts: poverty in the Pacific

Four million Pacific people live in poverty – almost half the total population. Poor child and maternal health care, contaminated water, poor sanitation and a lack of education about nutrition are wasting opportunities, wasting lives and killing people.

Wasted opportunities: poverty and hunger

Photo: Kate Medlicott
A house in Papua New Guinea, one of the world's poorest countries.
Photo: Kate Medlicott / Oxfam
  • Approximately 2.7 million people – one-third of the Pacific population – do not have the income or subsistence production to meet their basic human needs.
  • Papua New Guinea (PNG), Solomon Islands and Kiribati are among the poorest countries in the world.
  • Fifteen per cent of the population of Fiji – 120,000 people – live in squatter settlements in urban areas.

Wasted lives: primary education and gender equality

  • Around one million Pacific school-age children are not receiving an education.
  • The primary school completion rate in Vanuatu was just 59 per cent in 2006 .
  • The adult literacy rate is recorded as 65 per cent in the Solomon Islands.
  • The Pacific has been the worst performing region in the world in reaching targets for female representation in key political decision-making positions. The target is 30 per cent representation. The Pacific average is 2.5 per cent.
  • The level of violence against women in the Pacific is among the worst in the world. Almost 50 per cent of Samoan women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence. This figure is 64 per cent for the Solomon Islands.

Wasted deaths: child mortality, maternal health and clean water

  • The proportion of people in the Pacific with access to an improved water source is just 50 per cent, which is the worst in the world – 10 per cent lower than sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Kiribati and PNG are well off the MDG target to reduce child mortality to 30 per 1000 live births. In Kiribati 69 children die per 1000 live births.
  • Only 58 per cent of infants in the Pacific have received at least one dose of measles vaccine. This is far worse than sub-Saharan Africa, where 72 per cent of infants receive the vaccine .
  • The Pacific is well off track in improving the proportion of people with access to improved sanitation. The MDG target for the Pacific is for 76 per cent of people to have access to improved sanitation. Currently the figure stands at only 53 per cent.

Case study: Papua New Guinea

A lack of access to safe water and adequate sanitation is a problem facing people in many Pacific countries, however those in PNG are worse off than most. The majority of PNG’s population lives in remote, poorly serviced rural areas sometimes without any road access. The remote Highlands area is troubled by ongoing conflict and is poorer than many other areas. Despite having high rainfall, only 10 per cent of the Highlands population has access to safe drinking water. Poor hygiene and sanitation contributes to the spread of preventable but deadly water-borne illnesses. PNG faces the worst HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Pacific and, for sufferers, access to safe water can mean the difference between life and death.

  • Almost 4 million people, almost the entire population of New Zealand, lack access to clean water. Over 3.5 million people lack access to adequate sanitation.
  • The under-5 mortality rate in PNG is 75 per 1000 live births. In comparison, the New Zealand rate is 6 per 1000.
  • There are 733 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in PNG. The New Zealand rate is 9 per 100,000.
  • The primary school enrolment rate is just 53 per cent, lower than all but a few African countries.
  • The primary school completion rate was just 45 per cent in 2007.
  • The adult literacy rate is recorded as 60 per cent.
  • More than 75,000 people are living with HIV, up from 5500 in the year 2000.
  • Over the last 10 years, there has only been one woman member of parliament.

Sources: AusAID; Cornell, 'Pacific Urbanisation and its Discontents', 2009; Ministry of Education, Vanuatu; UN MDG Report 2010; Family Planning Int.; Secretariat of the Pacific Community; PNG Demographic and Health Survey; UNICEF; Ministry of Education, PNG; World Bank; UNDP.