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COUNTRY PROFILES


PROFILE

Country Profile

Area: 1.35m sq km (850,000 sq miles)
Population: 523,000 (2009 est.)
Capital city: Honiara
People: Melanesian (94%), Polynesian (4%), Micronesian (1.5%), Europeans and Chinese.
Languages: The official language is English but the most widely used language is Pidgin. There are at least 60 indigenous languages and in addition numerous dialects.
Religion(s): The major religion is Christianity (32.8%) Church of Melanesia, (19%) Roman Catholic, (11%) Seventh Day Adventist, (10.3%) United Church, (2.4%) Christian Fellowship Church, (4.4%) and other Christian People adhere to the extended family or Wantok system. Traditional beliefs often co-exist with Christianity.
Currency: Solomon Islands Dollar (SBD)
Political system: Westminster-style parliamentary democracy.
Major political parties: There are currently more than ten registered parties, including: People’s Alliance Party (PAP), People’s Congress Party (PCP), Democratic Party (DP), People's Progressive Party (PPP), United Party (UP), National Party (NP), Liberal Party (LP), Association of Independent Members (AIM), and OUR Party. However, party politics as understood in the UK does not operate in the Solomon Islands.
Government: The Solomon Islands has a democratically elected 50 member unicameral Parliament which elects the Prime Minister and Governor General.
Last election: 4 August 2010
Next election due: 2014
Head of State: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (since 6 February 1952), represented by Governor General Sir Frank Kabui GCMG, CSI, OBE.
Prime Minister: The Hon Gordon Darcy Lilo
Foreign Minister: The Hon Clay Forau
Membership of international groups/organisations: The Solomon Islands is a member of the: Commonwealth, Pacific Islands Forum, South Pacific Forum, the United Nations (UN), the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) the World Bank, the Melanesian Spearhead Group, the Association of Small Island States and the Coral Triangle Initiative.

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HEALTH

Medical facilities in the Solomon Islands are limited. The quality and number of such facilities are increasing and improving slowly as a result of major investments by the donor community. However, patients with life threatening illnesses are often evacuated to Australia for medical treatment. Malaria is widespread and is the main cause of premature death in the country. Although there are no reliable figures, instances of HIV/AIDS are increasing. Diabetes, unknown in the country before the 1980s, has become widespread owing to poor diet. Many medical elective students from the UK visit the Solomon Islands as part of their studies and their contribution to developing the health system plays an important part in their medical training.

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ECONOMY

Basic economic facts

Current economic indicators can be found on the website of the Central Bank of the Solomon Islands (http://www.cbsi.com.sb/index.php) . However, both the Asian Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund have advised caution over the Solomon Islands Government’s own figures on the economy.

GDP: US$ 788billion (IMF est. 2011)
Major industries: Timber, fish, copra, palm oil, cocoa
Major trading partners: SI export locations China, Thailand, Republic of Korea and the Philippines (UK 9th)
SI Imports from: Australia, Singapore, China, New Zealand (UK 14th)
Exchange rate: March 2012 £1 GBP = $11.32SBD
Ethnic unrest and lawlessness severely damaged the Solomon Islands economy between 1999 and 2003 during which time it declined to its 1993 figures. Following the deployment of RAMSI in 2003 the economy has continued to improve. The main cause of the economic decline was the disruption to the main income earning sectors of the economy (timber, palm oil, gold, fish processing and tourism).There is still only limited inward investment, but the general economic indicators have improved significantly.

Less than 20% of the population is employed in the formal sector. Approximately 78% of the population earn their income through the informal sector by selling goods (fish, agricultural produce, timber Etc). There is very little value added manufacturing and the vast majority of the country's income derives from the export of primary goods and from development aid (for every two dollars the government spends, donors provide three).

Logging is the primary export. It accounts for around 60% of export earnings, constitutes 17% of the economy and provides 16% of government income.

Estimates vary, but present rates of logging look likely to exhaust commercially viable forests by 2014. The World Bank has identified a number of potential replacement sources for growth including fish, copra, cocoa, palm oil, gold mining and tourism. The economy will remain dependent on world commodity prices.

NGO’s and donors are beginning to explore with government the potential for carbon credits to generate export earnings. This work is still constrained by the lack of a formal market for carbon.

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CLIMATE CHANGE

As a Least Developed Country (LDC) and a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) Solomon Islands is extremely vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. Sea level rise is already causing significant damage to rural infrastructure including wharves and roads. Salt-water intrusion, as a result of King Tides, is affecting food security and heavier, more frequent and less predictable rainfall has caused flash floods. The Government is, therefore, currently looking at options for the resettlement of parts of the population in particularly low lying coastal and riverside areas. Given the constraints of the customary land system this is likely to be extremely challenging. In addition the commercial logging of Solomon Islands lowland rainforest is depleting world carbon stocks – and destroying bio-diversity. Most infrastructure projects funded by the donor community now have to be “climate change proof”.

The Ministry of Environment has formed a specialist Climate Change Division and is mainstreaming climate risk management into the work of the National Disaster Management Office. Solomon Islands is a member of the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) grouping and it’s participation in the UNFCC negotiations is shaped by this membership.

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HISTORY

Recent history

Ethnic tension, mostly over land rights and jobs, between the indigenous people of Guadalcanal and settlers from Malaita province, has been simmering for over 40 years, but escalated in 2000. Malaitans migrated to Guadalcanal in large numbers after World War II looking for work when the capital was moved from the New Florida Islands to Honiara on Guadalcanal to take advantage of a large airstrip started by the Japanese and completed by US forces. Malaitans did much to develop the capital and gained key positions in the public sector and government. This provoked resentment among the indigenous people of Guadalcanal, who responded between 1999 and 2003 by driving many Malaitans from their homes.

Early in 2000, Malaitans, frustrated at perceived government inaction in meeting their demands for compensation for the properties they had left behind on Guadalcanal, raided the police armoury at Auki, Malaita and seized all its weapons. These were gradually transferred over to Honiara and on 5 June a force calling itself the Malaita Eagle Force/Joint Operation seized the police armoury in Honiara, in collaboration with sympathetic members of the local police (RSIPF), and held Prime Minister Ulufa'alu hostage. On 14 June 2000, Ulufa'alu resigned 'for his own safety' and to appease the MEF. Following some protracted negotiations between the new government and the two militant groups (IFM and MEF) a cease-fire agreement was finally signed for 30 days on 5 August 2000. Despite occasional breaches by both sides it was generally observed.

An integral part of the cease-fire agreement was that a Peace Agreement had to be signed by early November 2000. The final negotiations of the agreement took place at an army base in Townsville (Australia) and the Townsville Agreement was signed on 15 October 2000. Inter-ethnic fighting ceased and some 2,000 weapons were subsequently handed in to the International Peace Monitoring Team (IPMT). But many high-powered weapons remained in the hands of former militants, and a climate of fear perpetuated due to continuing violent criminality and police corruption. The economic situation continued to deteriorate owing to the general lawlessness. In early 2003 the Government was subjected to armed threat by a small number of police to extract millions of dollars of public funds claimed as compensation. By this stage Government services were virtually non-existent due to the lack of funds – schools and clinics closed in many rural areas. The Solomon Islands became a failed State.

But 2003 also marked the beginnings of social and economic recovery. The arrival from the UK early in 2003 of a new Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) Commissioner, jointly funded by the UK and the EU, began to restore hope that the situation would be addressed. In July, a Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) arrived, an initiative led by Australia and New Zealand, with personnel support from other South Pacific countries. The combined military/police/civilian expert task force initially included 2,300 armed troops, helicopters, and five naval vessels.

RAMSI's first priority was restoration of law and order: this was achieved with remarkable success. Criminals were arrested and weapons were handed in without any loss of life. 300 Australian and regional policemen strengthened the RSIPF and public confidence in the police started to return. The military component of RAMSI was scaled down at the end of 2003.

Considerable effort is now being directed at good governance and restoring Government services. This is expected to be a long term venture. Several complex issues, such as land rights, are among the fundamental issues affecting reform and development and the rate of progress is unpredictable. The main international donors, i.e. AusAid, the EU, World Bank and Asian Development Bank, who had suspended activities due to the law and order problems, have now established permanent in-country presence. The EU also announced the release of a package of funds worth €85 million, which had been on hold since 2000.

In April 2006, widespread rioting and looting took place following the election of a new Prime Minister, Snyder Rini. 90% of China Town in Honiara was destroyed along with many other buildings, including a major hotel. After a week in office, Mr Rini stepped down and a new Prime Minister, Mannaseh Sogavare was subsequently elected.

In April 2007, Western Province and Choiseul were hit by a tsunami following an earthquake measuring 8 on the Richter Scale. 52 people are known to have lost their lives in the disaster and more than 6,000 people were made homeless as a result.

In December 2007, a new Government came to power after Prime Minister Sogavare lost a vote of confidence in Parliament. Solomon Islands MPs subsequently elected Dr Derek Sikua as their new Prime Minister. Prime Minister Sikua’s CNURA Government has focused on an ambitious legislative and policy agenda. This included the setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (which was opened by His Grace Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in April 2009); the development of a Medium Term Development Strategy and attempts to reform the political system.

Longer historical perspective

The UK declared a Protectorate over the Southern Solomons in 1893. Further islands were added to the Protectorate in 1898 when Choiseul and Isabel were transferred by treaty with Germany. Parts of the Solomon Islands were occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War, but were returned to British administration after the war, with responsibility gradually being passed to Solomon Islanders. On 7 July 1978 the Solomon Islands became an Independent Realm within the Commonwealth with The Queen as Head of State.

BBC News Timeline: Solomon Islands (http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/asia-pacific/newsid_1249000/1249397.stm)

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Solomon Islands' relations with its neighbours

The Solomon Islands is a member of many regional and international bodies, including the Pacific Islands Forum and the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG). Solomon Islands hosts the Forum Fisheries Agency, which is based in Honiara. Australia and New Zealand play a major role in the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), which is also actively supported by Papua New Guinea and other Pacific partners. The Solomon Islands hosted the Pacific Islands News Association Convention in May 2007.

Solomon Islands' relations with the international community

The Solomon Islands is a member of the UN and the Commonwealth. EU, UNDP and the Commonwealth Youth Programme all have permanent offices in Honiara. The Solomon Islands has followed a policy of non-alignment since independence. It is an active supporter of the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (which it ratified in January 1989) and has completed a Nuclear Proliferation Treaty safeguards agreement with the IAEA.

The UK, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Japan and Taiwan all have Diplomatic Missions in the Solomon Islands. The US has a Consular Agent in Honiara. France, Germany, Sweden, Turkey, South Korea, Malaysia, The Philippines and Israel all have Honorary Consuls. The Solomon Islands has diplomatic missions in Canberra, Taipei, Suva, Port Moresby, at the UN in New York and the European Commission in Brussels (the High Commissioner there is accredited to the UK).

Solomon Islands relations with the UK

The UK shares close historical links with the Solomon Islands and bilateral relations remain warm and cooperative.

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GEOGRAPHY

The Solomon Islands is a scattered archipelago of six main islands and 986 smaller islands situated some 1,800 kilometres north-east of Australia. Its closest neighbours are Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. The population of the Islands was estimated in 2011 to be 550,000 and is growing at a rate of at least 2.7% per annum – the highest population growth rate in the region. 52% of the population are estimated to be under the age of 18. The population is mainly Melanesian and about 85% live in rural areas. The capital, Honiara, has a population of approximately 55,000, although the number varies as people move to and from the neighbouring islands. The second largest town has a population of fewer than 6,000. The Solomon Islands is classed by the UN as a Least Developed Country due to its poor social indicators and a per capita income of US$1030 (2010). Statistical figures of this type are, however, difficult to assess as very little data has been gathered over the last four years.. Child female literacy is 59%.

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TRADE AND INVESTMENT

There is currently a low level of inward investment into the Solomon Islands. A number of high profile foreign investors withdrew during the unrest resulting in the closure of the Gold Ridge goldmine and the Solomon Islands Plantations Ltd (palm oil) with significant job losses. Gold Ridge reopened in March 2011 under new management and significant investment has been secured from the International Finance Corporation.. The Solomon Islands Plantation site was purchased by New Britain Palm Oil Ltd (quoted on the London Stock Exchange) and has returned to production.

The Solomon Islands’ economy is greatly influenced by fluctuating world commodity prices and demand for primary products, particularly timber which accounts for 60% of Solomon Islands export receipts. In recent years it has benefitted from rising prices driven by demand from China. British companies who operate in Solomon Islands include British - American Tobacco (who run the local cigarette-making factory) and De La Rue, who print local banknotes and passports.

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POLITICS

The Solomon Islands is a constitutional monarchy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constitutional_monarchy) and Commonwealth Realm with Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_of_the_Solomon_Islands) . Gordon Darcy Lilo is the eleventh and current Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prime_Minister_of_the_Solomon_Islands) .

The General Election in August 2010 saw the election of Danny Philip as Prime Minister. He resigned in November 2011 when faced with a Motion of No Confidence being tabled by the leader of the opposition, Dr Sikua. On 16 November, Gordon Darcy Lilo was elected Prime Minister by a majority of MPs following Danny Philip’s resignation.

The next general election is due in 2014.

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HUMAN RIGHTS

The Solomon Islands is a signatory to many of the core human rights treaties but the lack of good government procedures has meant that it is unaware in many cases of its obligations and has no audit capacity against which to judge its performance. A lack of financial and other resources has also restricted the Government's ability to conform. With no universal primary education and 85% of the population living in rural areas and not part of the cash economy, there is a low awareness of rights and the workings of the judicial system. The participation of women in government and administrative roles is minimal.

A family health and safety survey carried out by the Ministry of Women, Youth and Children Affairs, reported two out of three women aged 15-49 years in the Solomon Islands who had a relationship were violently treated by their husband or boyfriend. The findings, based on a World Health Organisation multi country study on Women's Health and Domestic Violence against women, said one out of 10 pregnant women report being beaten during pregnancy, out of this five admitted to being punched or kicked on the stomach.

The ethnic fighting of 1999-2000 resulted in a number of serious abuses of individual rights, in some cases by serving members of the police force who had gone over to one side or other of the militant factions. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has begun hearing testimony from both victims and perpetrators of the violence.

There are no reports of political prisoners. There is a free press and radio and the Constitution provides for the right of assembly. Homosexuality remains illegal and the law is enforced.

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Last Updated: March 2012

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