Home Anglican Church of Melanesia, Vanuatu Swept away: food and the burden of flooding in the Solomon Islands

Swept away: food and the burden of flooding in the Solomon Islands

September, 2020

The province of Guadalcanal, the second largest island in the Solomon Islands and home of it’s capital, Honiara, plays an essential role in growing enough food to feed the nation’s people. So, when Tropical Cyclone Harold brought with it devastating floods in April this year, washing away crops and food gardens, food insecurity became a big problem.

A community gratefully receives bags of rice and agricultural kits so they can start to rebuild their food gardens. Credit: CAN DO

Solomon Islanders have a special connection to their villages, their communities and the land. Their ancestral villages represent their identity and security, somewhere to belong; the land provides what they need to survive. To be a citizen is to be a landowner, and for the majority, subsistence farming is a way of life.[1] As many as 80 percent of Solomon Islanders live in rural areas, and they primarily rely on smallholder agriculture for both income and food security.[2]

Despite, and sometimes because of this, food security is a significant problem for people living in the Solomon Islands. In Guadalcanal province, where the capital, Honiara, is located, a comprehensive survey has shown that 67 percent of people experience some level of food insecurity or deprivation. This means that most people have experienced a combination of being worried about having enough money for food, or they have had to compromise the variety or quantity of food because of money, or they have gone without food. 17 percent of people responded that a lack of resources contributed to them having to go without food for a whole day.[3]

The reliance on small rural farms presents both opportunity as well as problems. Particularly for women, small farms offer a way to make extra money, increasing household incomes to create financial sustainability. However, over-reliance also leads to problems and contributes to the food insecurity. One of the main issues that impacts the people living in Guadalcanal province are frequent environmental shocks.

CAN DO volunteers unload the supplies for the most impacted communities. These volunteers were essential to undertaking the needs assessment, packing the kits and delivering them! Credit: CAN DO

Significantly, the Solomon Islands is ever more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, which is leading to rising sea-levels and more intense severe weather systems. With events such as tropical storms comes increased rainfall and the possibility of flooding, which has a devastating impact on people who rely on the land. After 2014 saw the worst floods in the nation’s history, the Guadalcanal province has seen some degree of regular flooding. This year the region again suffered as a result of Tropical Cyclone (TC) Harold, washing away many crops and family food gardens, in the process destroying much of the nation’s food supply.

In response to the TC Harold flooding, CAN DO (the Church Agencies Network Disaster Operations), acted quickly. AOA had the privilege of leading the CAN DO response, which started with a comprehensive needs assessment by our partners. This was essential to ensure that help given was specific to the needs in the worst impacted areas – and it confirmed that along with the need for shelter, mosquito nets and hygiene items, the highest and most immediate need was food security. Most of the communities reported that their gardens were destroyed and that their immediate food outlook was ‘severe’.

Because of this the most urgent priority in supporting victims of TC Harold was delivering food relief and essentials to re-establish their food gardens so that they can continue feeding their families. Firstly, supplies like bags of rice were delivered to communities, and then kits containing items such as seeds and hoes were distributed. These agricultural kits, delivered to 300 homes, benefitting 1,470 people, are critical to long-term recovery; and families will rely on the food produced in the months to come.

In addition to the food relief and recovery needs, there was a pressing need to disseminate vital information about COVID-19 and how to prevent its spread. TC Harold and its impacts were being felt at a time during April when COVID-19 was spreading quickly worldwide, and this was a good opportunity to not only reach communities with vital supplies, but also with important advice on how to keep them, their families and their communities safe during the pandemic. Along with information, hygiene kits were also distributed, so that people had access to essentials like soap. In total, the food relief, agricultural kits, hygiene kits and COVID-19 awareness activities reached 6,989 people.

Despite the ongoing challenges that climate change brings to Pacific Island nations like the Solomon Islands, we are committed to helping respond to and mitigate the impacts. Our disaster response activities in partnership with CAN DO have given people the immediate assistance they need during difficult times; helping with immediate access to food in the wake of the emergency and into the future.

One of the ways that we are able to help quickly in times of disaster is through the Rapid Response Emergency Fund – a fund set aside so that we can deliver assistance immediately when emergency strikes. Read more about how our Rapid Response Emergency Fund helps us to be prepared and how you can help.

A local woman prepares a coconut for the children. After TC Harold washed away food gardens, some communities had very little food left. Credit: CAN DO

The TC Harold response work in the Solomon Islands was funded by CAN DO.

[1] McGougall, D. Lost Passports? Disconnection and immobility in the rural and urban Solomon islands, Journal de la Société des Océanistes, 2017

[2] N. Georgeou, C. Hawksley, J. Monks, A Ride, M. Ki’i, L. Barratt. Food Security in Solomon Islands: A Survey of Honiara Central Market, HADRI/Western Sydney University, 2018 p.1

[3] International Women’s Development Agency, Snapshot Report: Gender Insights in the Solomon Islands, https://www.individualdeprivationmeasure.org/resources/snapshot-report-solomon-islands/ 2017 p.22


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