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The republic of the Fiji Islands consists of 320 islands covering 18,272 square kilometers. The great majority of the country’s population live on the two largest islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. Though Fiji comprises all types of oceanic island, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu are of volcanic origin with mountainous interiors and fertile coastal bands where most of the country’s estimated 860,000 population (2005 estimate) live and where the majority of Fiji’s agricultural activity, services, infrastructure, towns and tourist resorts are located. Approximately 80 percent of the country’s rural population live within five kilometers of the coast.
Fiji faces a number of environmental threats and challenges resulting from the limited amount of available fertile land, the coastal location of much of the population and most economic activity, and the shift of the economy to a more industrial base. As such, Fiji faces multiple challenges, the most important of which include land degradation from intensification of economic activity, destruction of marine habitat and erosion of coasts, land and coastal-based pollution, unsustainable exploitation of marine resources, soil erosion resulting from more intense us of land (especially hillsides), and destructive fishing practices. In rural areas, the dominance of the sugar industry has meant an increasing use and reliance on pesticides and, coupled with more intense use of land for subsistence and commercial crops, has resulted in greater sedimentation and pollution of rivers and lagoons.
Fiji faces significant and pressing environmental challenges resulting from its transformation from a rural to an urban society. The urban population of Fiji is estimated to approximately half the national population. Cities are growing in terms of population but also their wider footprint. Suva, the principal city and national capital, extends to over 6,500 ha with an estimated population of at least 210,000. Urban growth has taxed the capacity of authorities to provide adequate services and infrastructure, particularly to the country’s burgeoning squatter settlements that increasingly dominate the urban landscape of even smaller regional cities. In the mid-1990s only about 40 percent of Fiji’s urban population had adequate access to water, proper sanitation facilities, and waste collection services. Levels of solid waste creation per capita are increasing in many of Fiji’s cities but the machinery of collection and disposal is rarely keeping pace. Environmental and health conditions in informal settlements are increasingly degraded and deteriorating with growing populations. In addition to these environmental threats, Suva now faces an increased problem of air pollution.
- Bob Thistlewaite and Derrin Davies A Sustainable Future for Melanesia? Natural Resources, Population and Development (National Centre for Development Studies, Australian National University, 1999);
- International Waters Programme, Priority Environmental Concerns for Fiji, (Institute of Marine Resources, 2003).