Drifting to town

Some of the participants at the National Urban conference held in Honiara last week.

Some of the participants at the National Urban conference held in Honiara this week.

RURAL-URBAN migration or what is commonly known as “urban drift” is increasing as rural people poured into Honiara in search of jobs and other opportunities.

As the city continues to experience a rise in its population due to urban drift, space becomes an issue and a serious problem.

This is because of over-population.

With the steady increase of people travelling from the provinces to Honiara, rural-urban migration effects are now taking their toll on the city’s resources.

Lack of space has resulted in the rise of squatter settlements either on hillsides or swampy areas.

Those sites are dangerous as they are vulnerable to natural hazards like earthquake, landslides, and flood.

Lands and Housing minister Moses Garu highlighted these at the first National Urban Conference held in Honiara this week.

He stated that the population of Honiara is likely to reach more than 350,000 people by 2050. “It has been predicted continued and rapid population increase of Honiara and urban areas in Guadalcanal, so by 2050 we could see a combined greater Honiara population of more than 350,000 people,” Mr Garu said.

This followed the rapid movement of people into Honiara. “We know from census reports that the number of Solomon Islanders living in urban areas is increasing all the time. “We also know that the proportion of Solomon Islanders who live in Honiara and other urban centres is growing, while the proportion of us living in villages is actually decreasing,” the minister added.

Mr Garu said despite all the efforts towards rural development, this trend will inevitably continue.

He also revealed that at the latest census there were about 70,000 people living in Honiara “At the time of the latest census there were about 70,000 people living in Honiara, and another 16,000 living in nearby urban parts of Guadalcanal province.

“The statistic office has predicted continuous increase and rapid population increase of Honiara and urban areas in Guadalcanal, so that by 2050 we could see a combined greater Honiara population of more than 350,000 people.”

The National Urban Conference also heard that currently, there were 36 informal settlement zones in Honiara.

“Mid 2000s: approximately. 3,000 households of around 22,000 people living in these zones (35% of Honiara’s population).

These informal settlements characteristics are;

  • Have no legal security tenure
  • Typically in valleys (with formal housing on the flat and ridges) and growth following a sprawl pattern
  • They have llimited services to water, power and solid waste, limited supporting infrastructure-e.g. roads
  • Environmentally-marginal locations and
  • Temporary and semi-permanent dwellings.

The Ministry of Lands and Housing also revealed that the informal settlement zones within the Honiara city alone comprised of an approximate population of 27,769 of 3,967 informal settlement household constructing a percentage of 39.7 % of Honiara’s population.

It said there is a Participatory Slum Upgrading Programme (PSUP) targeting the Honiara city informal settlement that is currently underway.

“Upgrading is already underway across the majority of informal settlement zones in the city.

“However, continued urbanisation will likely fuel further informal settlement growth without a significant step up in upgrading efforts and very expensive formal sector housing also remains out of reach for low-income earners,” the ministry said.

This means the government must prioritise developing provincial urban centres or focus more on decentralization to mitigate urban drift.

The National Urban Conference has equipped provincial government reps, chairman of provincial boards, and provincial planners and lands officers with skills and knowledge on ways to improve urban development in their respective provincial towns and also to improve urban planning and development in the country.

The fact that there are limited spaces within town boundary means people are turning to build their houses unplanned and without the permission of Honiara City Council (HCC).

Even neighbours turn against each other as land became scarce.

Regardless of efforts by the HCC to manage the town’s urban development growth and expansion, it was unsuccessful and the issue remains still.

In some instance, when there is mass migration to the city, the migrants often find themselves faced with extreme poverty, poor housing, lack of jobs and little or no traditional family support.

Suggested below are some of the ways that government should take into consideration to address the issue of urban drift:

  1. Create employment opportunities to reduce mobility of labor.
  2. Promote agriculture and farming in order to avoid poverty among people.
  3. Improve on transport and communication network.
  4. Improve on infrastructural development by constructing modern schools and hospitals in the rural communities.
  5. Improve on security and provide security services in rural areas in order to promote peace. 
  6. Make land reforms to enable the poor and low income earners get access on land 
  7. Sensitize people regarding the effects of rural urban migration and how they can develop themselves in villages
  8. Provide credit facilities in rural areas to enable easy accessibility on finance.

This means that decentralisation should be done in all the provincial capitals so that people will engage themselves in economic activities and avoid drifting into town in search of jobs.

By STEPHEN DIISANGO/SOLOMON STAR