Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands occupy a strategic location on sea routes between the South Pacific Ocean, the Solomon Sea, and the Coral Sea. Its people [647,581 - July 2017 estimate] have been at war with each other, manipulated by dreadful political leadership. Most of the population lives along the coastal regions; about one in five live in urban areas, and of these some two-thirds reside in Honiara, the largest town and chief port.

Solomon Islands is one of the Pacific's poorest countries, with high costs of service delivery due to a small and geographically dispersed population. The majority of the population (growing at about three per cent per annum) is involved in subsistence/cash crop agriculture, with less than a quarter involved in paid work.

The Solomon Islands had lots of timber, but Malaysian loggers nicked most of it. Rich in gold and fish, but in the unrest mines and canneries were targeted. Vast palm oil plantations all ruined by strife. The bulk of the population depends on agriculture, fishing, and forestry for at least part of its livelihood. Most manufactured goods and petroleum products must be imported. The islands are rich in undeveloped mineral resources such as lead, zinc, nickel, and gold. Prior to the arrival of The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), severe ethnic violence, the closure of key businesses, and an empty government treasury culminated in economic collapse. RAMSI's efforts, which concluded in June 2017, to restore law and order and economic stability have led to modest growth as the economy rebuilds.

The Solomon Islands is a source and destination country for local adults and children and Southeast Asian men and women subjected to forced labor and forced prostitution; women from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines are recruited for legitimate work and upon arrival are forced into prostitution; men from Indonesia and Malaysia recruited to work in the Solomon Islands’ mining and logging industries may be subjected to forced labor; local children are forced into prostitution near foreign logging camps, on fishing vessels, at hotels, and entertainment venues; some local children are also sold by their parents for marriage to foreign workers or put up for “informal adoption” to pay off debts and then find themselves forced into domestic servitude or forced prostitution.

The government is unstable and corrupt, dominated by Australian bureaucrats. In general, Solomon Islands politics is characterized by fluid coalitions. The monarchy is hereditary; governor general appointed by the monarch on the advice of the National Parliament for up to 5 years (eligible for a second term); following legislative elections, the leader of the majority party or majority coalition usually elected prime minister by the National Parliament; deputy prime minister appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister from among members of the National Parliament. The unicameral National Parliament has 50 seats; are members directly elected in single-seat constituencies by simple majority vote to serve 4-year terms).

Self-government was achieved in 1976 and independence two years later. Ethnic violence, government malfeasance, endemic crime, and a narrow economic base have undermined stability and civil society. In June 2003, then Prime Minister Sir Allan KEMAKEZA sought the assistance of Australia in reestablishing law and order; the following month, an Australian-led multinational force arrived to restore peace and disarm ethnic militias. The Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) has generally been effective in restoring law and order and rebuilding government institutions.

Most roads in Solomon Islands are in a very poor state of repair. Large potholes are common and local drivers swerve or slow to almost a stop to avoid or pass potholes, including on the main road in Honiara. Vehicles are generally poorly maintained. Traffic lanes and road rules are often ignored, particularly at roundabouts and other intersections. Off the main highway, pedestrians often walk on roads, seemingly unaware of traffic. Rocks are sometimes thrown at vehicles belonging to members of the foreign community when driving in and around Honiara. Violent protests in early May 2017 by a large group of people armed with crude weapons caused damage to properties in the Tasahe area of Honiara.

Safety risks include malaria and crocodiles. Around Honiara, street dogs roam freely, sometimes in packs. Some packs and individual dogs attack people walking, running or cycling near them. Fresh and salt-water crocodiles and sharks are common. Sometimes they come close to Honiara, including near Mbonege Beach.

Malaria occurs throughout the year in most areas of Solomon Islands. Unrest tends to coincide with sittings of Parliament, periods of political uncertainty, industrial relations disputes or high profile investigations, land disputes, or court cases. Endemic crime, riots and looting are common. The Chinese are leaving, but hardened expatriates staying. Home invasions, burglaries, and violent crime typically increase in the months approaching the Christmas holiday season.

The Solomon Islands lie in the South Pacific cyclonic trajectory and are vulnerable to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and sudden tidal movements. The Cyclone season is from November to May when heavy rain can lead to flooding, landslides and disruptions to services. Tropical storms and cyclones may also occur in other months. The direction and strength of cyclones can change with little warning. Flights in and out of affected areas could be delayed or suspended, and available flights may fill quickly. Access to sea ports could also be affected. In some areas, adequate shelter from a severe cyclone may not be available for all those who stay.

Unexploded World War II ordnance is still present in Solomon Islands, particularly at Hell's Point and the ridges behind Honiara, the New Georgia groups of islands, the former capital of Tulagi and the Russell Islands. The condition and stability of the ordnance is largely unknown.

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