Solomon Islands

Calm in Honiara after two nights of rioting

News and Press Release
Originally published
View original

Solomon Islands' police say the situation in Honiara and other parts of Guadalcanal is calm after two nights of rioting at the end of last week during which several people were injured and five were arrested.

The police say most of the rioters were people affected by last month's flood disaster, with many coming from a temporary evacuation centre at the national university.

Latest reports from the United Nations say there are still as many as 4,500 people living in ten evacuation centres more than a month after the floods struck.

Listen to: Calm in Honiara after two nights of rioting

Andrew Catford, Country Program Director for the aid group World Vision says it was a mix of people involved in Friday's rioting.

Presenter: Richard Ewart

Speaker: Andrew Catford, Country Program Director for World Vision

CATFORD: There are reports that it was flood victims, but there's also a feeling that there were other people from the neighbouring area, particularly Burns Creek, which is the largest settlement in Honiara. It's about 50 per cent youth, a lot of resettled people, so there is a little bit of history of people from those types of areas sort of getting involved in these types of incidents. So there's probably a mix of people is what most people are saying around town.

EWART: So it wouldn't be right to describe it, if you like, as an act of desperation by a group of people who are still living in temporary accommodation? They seem perhaps to have just been caught up in a general act of lawlessness, if I can put it that way?

CATFORD: Yeah, and certainly there's a history of that in Honiara, if you look back to the tensions, it wasn't always everyone with a legitimate grievance, but people often got sort of caught up in the moment with it, but it's certainly perhaps an element of both of those groups.

EWART: Now, in terms of the people that are still in temporary accommodation, more than a month after the floods struck. Now the figure that the United Nations Regional Office put on it is around 4,500. I mean would you agree with that figure and can you explain why these people are still so reluctant to go, when they've come under enormous pressure I think from the government to back to their homes if at all possible?

CATFORD: Yeah, certainly that figure your quoting is the latest figure from late last week. The total number of people affected from this flood is estimated to be about 52,000 people, so it is the biggest event to have hit the country in about 30 years. So it's quite a large event for the government and agencies like ourselves to deal with and it is both in Honiara, where about 10,000 people were affected and also the rural areas of Guadalcanal, where about 40,000 people were affected.

In the rural areas, we're all working with people in their community locations and that response is going fairly smoothly.

In Honiara, the 10,000 people sort of went into these camps, and over the last 6 weeks, that's reduced from about 10-thousand, down to 4,500. So there's been some really good progress to get those people who were able to back to their homes, to go back to their homes and get their lives back on track.

I guess that group whose left. There's, as the government calls it, a few different categories of people, at least three categories of people in there, ones who have legitimately lost everything and can't easily go back to where they came from, perhaps they're from a flood-prone area, they've got no homes. They're perhaps a smaller percentage. There's some perhaps who had sort of more minor damage and they're being encouraged to also repatriate by the government and then there's the last category, which is probably the most difficult ones who have seen this as a little bit of an opportunity and some have actually moved into the camps who weren't affected, looking for assistance. So it is a little bit of a complex exercise for the government to sort of deal with those three groups and keep very one happy.

EWART: So there is still a significant number amongst that 4,500 who believe if they sit it out that they will get government money, despite the fact the government has said there is no money?

CATFORD: Yes, yes. And you might have heard there's been claims of people asking for cash and, of course, that could be a difficult scenario if you were given cash, because you are in the camps, that would perhaps attract more people in. So there's certainly some people who are perhaps opportunistic, looking for something out of this particular situation.

EWART: Is there any sign of the government moving to force these individuals out, because they've certainly said that they would be prepared to do that?

CATFORD: Ah yeah, at this stage, they haven't been forcing, they've been doing what's called voluntary repatriation, asking the willing to go and people get given a repatriation package, which is based on how they're needs have been assessed, so it should give them the basic things they needs to go on their way. So that's been a voluntary process at this stage. I haven't heard that that's going to change.

EWART: And what about the general state of the recovery, the particular issues, with water, for example. Is the situation there improving at all?

CATFORD: Yes, so certainly water's been one of the main issues during this response. You might have heard there's been quite high rates of diarrhoea, malaria, conjunctivitis. They've been sort of slowly dropping, which has been really good news, particularly that's one of the issues you have in the camps when people are living in confined spaces. Those rates have been dropping. Agencies like ourselves, World Vision and others, we've been supplying, trucking in clean water, also we've had some hygiene teams going out and sort of reinforcing those important measures of washing your hands and things like that, that can really reduce those instances, and also some emergency latrines have been put in and that's starting to really help with those issues and hopefully reduce those instances.

EWART: I believe that the Ministry of Health is investigating the death of four children from Guadalcanal Province, some suggestion that those deaths maybe linked to diarrhoea or to malnutrition. Can you enlighten us further on that?

CATFORD: You know I was at a meeting with the Ministry of Health last week and I don't think it was confirmed what the cause of death was of those children. It could be related to that or it could be just more normal conditions that happen here. So I think that's yet to be confirmed, that one.

Australian Broadcasting Corporation