The main objective of this paper is to trace the development of social policies in two underdeveloped South Pacific countries, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. In addition, it describes the nature of these policies. The paper discusses the countries’ development strategies and how these have been affected by external pressures and challenges. Chapter 1 provides a brief theoretical framework for social policy analysis. The subsequent discussion draws on this theoretical framework. Chapter 2 deals with the Solomon Islands and Chapter 3 discusses the situation in Vanuatu. Chapter 4 compares social development indicators in the two countries and briefly assesses their progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The last chapter provides some concluding comments. Finally, a postscript provides a brief review of more recent developments.
Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are among the larger countries of the South Pacific region. However, they are two of the poorest performing in terms of social indicators. Like many small developing states in the Pacific region, both countries had very poor development indicators at the time of independence. Their priorities were defined in national development plans; these included the development of social infrastructure such as schools, health facilities, roads, water supply and communications, as well as building capacity in the civil service and developing human resources. Economic strategy largely revolved around import substitution as a means of promoting growth and development.
A strategy grounded in Keynesian economic theory was promoted in many newly independent countries, and Solomon Islands and Vanuatu were no exception. The potential for developing the manufacturing and services sectors was limited and therefore both countries pursued an economic growth strategy that was based on developing the agriculture sectors. To some extent they were both successful in developing this sector. The Keynesian approach provided the justification for government-supported strategies for developing agriculture. However, despite these strategies, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are low-growth countries, together with Papua New Guinea and Fiji. Their economic progress has not been commensurate with their relatively high population growth. In 1975 the population of Solomon Islands was 190,000. By 2008 it had grown to 490,000, more than doubling its size in 33 years. The annual average population increase between 1975 and 2008 was 2.9 per cent. In 1975 Vanuatu’s population was 100,000 and this more than doubled to 220,000 in 2008, with an annual average population growth of 2.4 per cent.
The rapid population growth in both countries over the last 30 years was accompanied by rapid economic, social and political changes. However, the failure of economic growth to keep pace with the growth in population has put pressure on households and individuals in their efforts to achieve decent living standards. The most vulnerable groups are women, children, the elderly and the disabled.
Political instability in Solomon Islands has seriously affected its growth rate in the last five years. This is also true of Vanuatu, although to a lesser extent. As a result, both countries have failed to achieve many of their social objectives, and in some respects they have gone backwards.
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