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Poorest are Indians, with 44 percent below line

SUVA, Fiji (FijiSUN, July 22, 2008) - Thirty five percent of Fiji’s population lives below the poverty line, it was revealed yesterday. And the poorest ethnic sub-group is rural Indians of whom 44 percent now live below the Basic Needs Poverty Line.

University of the South Pacific economist, Professor Wadan Narsey made the revelations yesterday in his newly published book, "The Quantitative Analysis of Poverty in Fiji."

He said even though a higher percentage of Indians were poor (compared to Fijians) population wise; there were more poor Fijians than poor Indians.

This means the ethnic share of the poverty gap using differentiated BNPL values is 49 percent for Fijians and 47 percent for Indians.

He said Indian political parties ignored this result while Fijian political parties used it to their advantage.

Dr. Narsey said the Northern division was the poorest with 53 percent of its population living in poverty and a "horrendous" 60 percent of rural Indians. This indicated a problem in government policy and something should be done, he said.

Narsey questioned the Look North policy that had been preached over the years saying that "it was just lip service."

"The data clearly indicates the need to prioritize rural developments, and especially the Look North policy and Look West policy in the rural areas," he said.

For the poorest rural Indian group, there was an urgent need to speed up land use reform and resolve amicably the problems of expiring ALTA leases.

Narsey said Fiji had suffered from a lack of solid empirical data on the national incidence of poverty.

The study used Fiji-wide surveys of households by the Fiji Islands Bureau of Statistics to present a whole raft of data on the incidence of poverty and poverty gaps throughout the Fiji economy.

Narsey said on a source of income basis, the poorest groups were those dependent on subsistence income with 77 percent classified as poor, followed closely by those households dependant on casual wages at 58 percent.

Fijian households had improved in their income share recently, said Narsey.

USP vice chancellor Dr. Rajesh Chandra said the interim government, stakeholders, and the public should take heed of the statistics and work out ways to reduce poverty.

"For most of us who want to care about other people and to try and keep the peace in this country, we must take this figure quite seriously," said Chandra.

Narsey recommended that government remove all ethnically discriminatory policies in the public sector, employment, education and any other area that constituted ethnic discrimination leading to poverty. Government statistician Timoci Bainimarama said Narsey’s analysis of poverty was especially important for Fiji as the last results in a similar survey in 1990 to 1991 were unreliable. The book was funded by the FIBS.

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