The Pacific Islanders

Melanesian man

a Melanesian man in Vanuatu

The high birth rate (more than three percent a year in parts of Melanesia) and rapid urbanization severely tax the best efforts of governments with limited resources. The average population density across the region (excluding Papua New Guinea) is 27 persons per square km, though some atolls can have more than 1,000 people per square km. The most densely populated Pacific countries are the Polynesian islands of American Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga, and Tuvalu, while the larger Melanesian countries have far fewer people per square km. Due to the absence of family planning, populations in Melanesia are doubling every 20 years and half the total population is under 18 years of age. Population growth rates vary from negative growth in the Cook Islands, Niue, and Tokelau, where people are emigrating, to just under three percent in Melanesia.

More developed countries like American Samoa, the Cook Islands, Fiji, New Caledonia, and French Polynesia are highly urbanized, with around half the population town dwellers. Samoa, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu are the least urbanized, with about 85 percent still living in villages. The rapid growth of cities like Apia, Honiara, Nuku’alofa, Papeete, Port Vila, and Suva has led to high levels of unemployment and social problems such as alcoholism, petty crime, and domestic violence.

Emigration relieves the pressure a little and provides income in the form of remittances sent back. However, absenteeism also creates the problem of idled land and abandoned homes. The immigration policies of developed countries drain poorer countries of much needed skilled workers and professionals. Cook Islanders, Niueans, Tongans, and Samoans emigrate to New Zealand; American Samoans and Micronesians to the United States; Fiji Indians to Canada and Australia; people from the Australs, Tuamotus, and Marquesas to Tahiti; and Tahitians and Wallis Islanders to New Caledonia. In American Samoa, the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, and Wallis and Futuna, more islanders now live off their home islands than on them. About 200,000 insular Polynesians live in New Zealand, another 100,000 in the United States. Over 25,000 former Indo-Fijians are in Canada.