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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Villagers latest message:"We're staying home!"!

J. Roughan
23 March 2011

The Solomons latest Census--December 2009--could be published within the next month or so. This is an important public document, not only  to help government plan future national growth and prepare the country for the next ten years or so but for Solomon Islanders themselves to know where the nation is headed and how to prepare for a future different from the one we now live in.
Yes, the 2009 Census confirms that our population numbers have passed the half million mark (510,000) and also reconfirms how many or our citizens have decided to live in a growing Honiara city and our many provincial towns. But it also reminds us how many people have not moved to the Solomons urban sector but prefer living their lives at village level. 
In the 1976 Census, for instance, our urban population had reached 12% and we were informed by experts of the day to expect that by the turn of the century, only 24 years away at that time, almost 1/3 of our people would have left village life to take up residence in Honiara, Auki, Kira Kira, Buala, etc. etc. The migraton from rural areas to the urban was unstoppable and happening all over the globe. Every nation was undergoing the same shift from rural to urban. Some nations, like China, were set to have in the 21st century a dozen or so mega-cities with more than 10 million people. Suva, for example, is already home to more than 1/2 of Fiji's population and still growning. How would the Solomons be any different!
Yet, our rural people were sending the nation but especailly government officials a different message! In 1989, the next Census already  showed a slowing down of Solomon Islanders heading for town. In that Census only 16% of village people decided to take up residence in an urban setting. That meant a 4% increase of population in a 13 year period--1976-1989. The 1999 Census, moreover, confirmed that there definitely was a slowing down of people settng up urban residence when that Census showed a shift from village to town had been modest. Of course the Social Unrest period--1998-2003--made it difficult to secure an accurate count of what was happening nation-wide. 
Hence the preliminary figures for the 2009 Census do not come as a complete surprise. It seems that rather than the urban numbers increasing like so many other nations currently experience worldwide, the percentage of our people leaving the rural area and those living in town has hardly moved. The 2009 Census shows that the urban population has gained only 1% over a ten year period to reach 17% for the whole of the Solomons. Here's a brief table to clarify the issue:
                                                        SOLOMON ISLANDS URBAN POPULATION GROWTH.
                                                                                              (1976 - 2009)
                                                                            CENSUS                       % INCREASE 
                                                                              1976                             12%
                                                                              1989                             16%
                                                                              1999                             16%
                                                                               2009                             17%
These urban Census figures cover a 33 year period--1976-2009--of national history and are unlikely to change much over the next ten years or so. These numbers mean that the vast majority--currently 83%--of our people continue to vote with their feet to remain solidly village bound, are quietly resisting the lights of town life and yet seek to be served with better education opportunities, adequate medical assistance and a modest portion of the national investment.
Yes, the Solomon's urban sector continues to grow (but at a much slower rate than previously predicted), more people have chosen to live city life but the best meaning of these figures is that most people are determined to stay close to their village resource base which guarantees a place to grow sufficient food and insures protection, security and peacefulness in their daily lives.  
:Politicians of all stripes, both at national and provincial levels, have their work carved out for them. Unfortunately, as SIDT's nine Report Cards dating back to the Mamaloni era in 1989 have shown government after government have had terrible track records in assisting people in  accessing life's basics. Perhaps if our political leaders became more interested in their people's daily lives, then when election time does roll around the Member's 50% failure rate at the polls could begin to change to something more positive.        

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