The mouth of the Mataniko river is awash with rubbish. Bottles and cans and boxes bump against the shore. Amid the refuse, a grandmother, bare from the waist up, is collecting driftwood. Children dive in and out around her, jumping from a log into the waste, seeing who can make the biggest splash. On the river's eastern banks are two informal settlements - two of the Solomon Islands capital Honiara's rapidly growing slums. Lord Howe lines the river's eastern side, and on its west is Renlau. Their iron-roofed shacks hang over the water's edge on both sides, a crowded mishmash of laundry, more rubbish, and wood. To get to Lord Howe we take a route through the hospital on its border, passing through large iron gates before parking on the sandy waterfront. Recent heavy rain means there is water everywhere, the puddles so big the residents have largely given up going around them and instead step carefully through the middle. The only building that seems wholly dry is the church. "This time 75 houses were flooded," says Mary Eia Paolo. "And there would be three families in each of those houses. It happens every time it rains." Paolo has lived there since she was 8. Like many of the inhabitants, she came from one of the outer islands to the capital, moving with her parents, who came to look for work. Lord Howe was settled in 1967, next to the Mataniko and along the Kukum Highway, the city's main road and its highway to the airport. Its first house was built as a weekend retreat for the local doctor. But as more people came from the outer islands to the hospital, they also took up residence and now the settlement is so big it can hardly handle the number of people living there. Like most informal settlements, it has very limited infrastructure - no power, no running water, and most houses don't have toilets. People freely relieve themselves in the sea, a river, or nearby toilets. To help combat this, World Vision provides urban water, sanitation and hygiene programming, hoping to end open defecation and increase understanding of sanitation - but the problem is much broader than Lord Howe. • Read more: Hidden Pacific: Q&A • Why we're tackling poverty • Saving helps Solomon Islanders to help themselves • Fight for safe water Around 40 per cent of Honiara's population - about 28,000 people - now live in informal settlements, a number growing at up to 12 per cent a year. The residents rarely have land tenure and infrastructure is almost always unavailable to them. The rise in informal settlements has been driven both by unaffordable houses and migration to Honiara from rural areas. Houses in the city cost 50 to 70 times the median wage - so expensive that even highly paid bureaucrats are forced to rent. The situation has worsened since the civil unrest and coup in 2000, and the subsequent Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) intervention led by Australia. An influx of foreign staff helped push rentals from around SB$3000 ($547) a month to SB$30,000 ($5478) a month. To buy a house costs SB$495,000 ($90,384) to SB$735,000 ($134,221). The average person earns around SB$10,000 ($1826) a year. Only 15 per cent are formally employed. "These costs are far, far beyond the reach of even the most senior civil servants," Australian National University's Development Policy Centre wrote recently. "The result is that 97 per cent of ... homes built in the past six years have been sold to the Government to house public servants." While the Government has begun some response on the issue, for most the process of gaining an official "lease" to their land is too bureaucratic or expensive. In the settlement of Renlau, opposite Lord Howe, grandmother Esther Beata says they can't even afford to get a proper water supply. "We have no running water," she says. "It is our main problem." The village instead uses a well, or collects rainwater in tanks. Beata's father was one of the founders of Renlau. She says that back then, the villagers fished and there was some employment. "Now most families aren't working here, or they just have little businesses selling cigarettes or betel nut." Most couldn't afford for their children to go to school - the Government pays only a proportion of the fees - and instead the young ones play during the day. "The children as they play their toenails get an itchiness and then they cause problems to their parents at night and they cry," Beata says. As at Lord Howe, the settlement is prone to flooding and surrounded by washed-up rubbish. When we visit there are large pools of water with dozens of children running in and out, dragging small boats behind them. "We would like to get rid of it. We dig holes, we separate the bottles. We have tools but not enough," Beata says. "To look at it, I feel ugly. Ugly and miserable but what can I do."
Readers and supporters dig deep for the islands
Thank you - 100,000 times. Your generosity has enabled us to smash the Hidden Pacific campaign's initial fundraising target with more than a week to go. And donations are coming fast. We found out yesterday morning we'd topped the $100,000 mark set when we launched the campaign on March 4. By the end of the day the total stood at $101,549. The money will go to Hanuabada village on the outskirts of Papua New Guinea's capital Port Moresby. It will contribute to World Vision's water and sanitation work and improve the community's health, especially that of children. It will help extend a safe water supply. "The generosity of Herald readers and World Vision supporters has been incredible," said World Vision New Zealand chief executive Chris Clarke. "To have already raised $100,000 for our work in the Pacific is fantastic. It is inspiring to see Kiwis get behind the communities of our neighbours." As well as donations to the project in Hanuabada, you've also committed to supporting long-term needs across the region. This will support educational development, boost healthcare resources, extend nutritional capability, and build communities' resilience to disaster and climate change. "We know our readers are generous," said Herald managing editor Shayne Currie. "They proved that two years ago when we partnered with World Vision to help the millions of people displaced by the humanitarian crisis in Syria. "And now they've done it again - for a cause closer to home. We'd like to thank each and every person who gave a donation, however big. Their willingness to help some of the poorest countries of the world, in our backyard, says great things about New Zealanders. "The money they've donated will make a real and lasting difference to many people's lives." There's still time to donate. For the final week of the campaign, starting on Monday, we'll feature personal reflections on the region and the work done by World Vision. So keep reading our stories and watching the videos that accompany them. And, if you can afford it, make a donation.
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