A strong evidence base is needed to understand the socioeconomic implications of the coronavirus pandemic for the Solomon Islands. This report presents the findings of the first of five planned rounds of a mobile phone survey in the Solomon Islands. Round 1 interviewed 2,650 respondents across the country in late June 2020 on topics including awareness of COVID-19, employment and income, food security, coping strategies, and public trust and security. While these findings are not without their caveats due to the lack of baseline data, constraints of the mobile phone survey methodology, and data quality constraints, they represent the best estimates to date and supplement other data on macroeconomic conditions, exports, firm-level information, and etc. to develop an initial picture of the impacts of COVID-19 on the population.
Nearly all respondents indicated having heard of COVID-19, with radio being the most common main source of information. More than 97 percent of urban respondents and 90 percent of those living in rural areas had heard of COVID-19. Awareness was lower in certain rural areas in Isabel, Central, RennellBellona, Guadalcanal, and particularly Malaita, where only 69 percent of rural respondents had heard of COVID-19, as well as among less educated populations across all provinces. Respondents indicated receiving information through a wide range of sources, both formal and informal. The main formal channel was radio, cited as the leading source of information by 53 percent of respondents, across both urban and rural areas. Television, internet, text message, and social media were also important sources of information in urban areas, reaching a combined 27 percent of the urban population, but had a more limited reach in rural areas. Informal networks were also important in the dissemination of information, with 90 percent of respondents reporting having received information from friends and family, and 83 percent from community leaders. While these informal channels are not limited by access to technology, there is a greater likelihood of inaccurate information spreading via these informal networks. This may be mitigated, however, by the outreach and training of accurate information for local community leaders.
The net loss of between 7 and 11 percent since January was more likely to impact women. Since January, employment has been negatively impacted, with household heads and those in the upper quintiles of the wealth distribution being more likely to have left work. Statistical analysis estimated a net loss of between 7 percent and 11 percent of the pre-crisis workforce. Based on modeling, approximately 23 percent of the population working in January had stopped by June, and 9 percent of those working had stopped specifically because of COVID-19 related restrictions, though these losses were partially offset by 10 percent of those not working in January joining the workforce by June. These losses are significant particularly considering less than half of the adult population reported working at baseline. Women were more likely than men to have stopped working, both generally and specifically related to COVID-19, while workers with tertiary education were less likely than those with primary or secondary education. Certain sectors have been also more likely to see COVID-19 specific job losses, in particular construction and tourism. The two largest sectors of employment, agriculture and retail and trading, both showed net declines in employment between January and June, with about one-third of job losses being directly attributed to COVID-19 restrictions.
Household income has fallen since January. Of those still working in June, just over half were earning the same as pre-crisis levels and one-third were working for less or not being paid at all. Household enterprises have also been negatively impacted. Of the approximately one-quarter of households that reported operating non-farm businesses in 2020, nearly half have seen a decline in income in the month of June. In the important agricultural sector, the impacts have been somewhat limited with more than 90 percent of respondents indicating they were able to work normally since the start of the crisis. Despite this, nearly one-third of agricultural households expect a decline in household agricultural income, perhaps attributable to declining national and global economic conditions.
More than 85 percent of households used economic coping strategies since March that could potentially be damaging in the short and long term. While many households were able to reduce nonfood consumption, access assistance from friends or family, or find ways of earning extra money, other actions taken have additional negative implications. The productive capacity of households fell, as nearly half of all households spent from savings and 17 percent sold livestock. Household debt has also increased, with more than 25 percent of households purchasing items on credit and 20 percent delaying loan repayments. Government assistance was limited, cited by only 12 percent of households. Informal safety nets, such as remittance transfers, were more common but expected to decline as an option. Of the approximately 20 percent of households that reported receiving remittances, more than 50 percent indicated the payments had declined or stopped since the start of the crisis. As more than 75 percent of remittances were domestic, these declines will likely continue as economic conditions deteriorate, increasing the need to employ further coping strategies, potentially pushing more households into poverty, and slowing the eventual recovery process.
Food insecurity was widespread, despite minimal evidence of disruption to food supply chains. The most common coping strategy was reducing food consumption. Cited by more than 50 percent of households and nearly 60 percent of households with children under the age of 5, lower food consumption increases the short term risk of food insecurity as well as having potentially damaging lifetime health consequences. More than 70 percent of households reported experiencing food insecurity in the 30 days prior to data collection. Sixty percent reported running out of food and nearly 50 percent had at least one family (or household) member that did not eat for an entire day. The main reason for food insecurity was financial, as there was no evidence of supply chain issues in urban areas and limited disruption in rural areas, where households in particular had difficulty accessing imported items, such as rice and tinned fish.
Substantial out-migration from Honiara occurred. Approximately 6 percent of respondents reported moving in the 3 months prior to the survey, with the largest segment moving from Honiara to Malaita. Though updated information of population sizes will not be available until the results of the new census are released, this level of movement represents up to 20 percent of the population of Honiara leaving since the State of Public Emergency was declared in March. Migration was mainly to other urban areas, but recent migrants were less likely to be working than more established residents.
Most respondents said that the public trust and safety within the community had remained the same, but there were still some causes for concern. In both urban and rural areas, nearly 50 percent of respondents indicated increased drug and alcohol abuse, a finding consistent with increased unemployment and financial anxiety. Respondents in rural areas with higher levels of in-migration were more likely to believe things had deteriorated. Disputes around natural resources, including land and logging disputes, were the next most commonly cited areas of deterioration. The results were relatively consistent across urban and rural areas, with marginally more respondents in rural areas believing logging disputes had worsened and slightly more urban residents saying that land disputes had deteriorated. In rural areas, women were more likely to say that things had deteriorated due to domestic abuse. Given that pre-crisis levels of gender-based violence were among the highest in the world, with this increased domestic abuse since the COVID-19 restrictions began, continual monitoring and perhaps expanded outreach and services may be required.