vunayasi naibourhood_smallI met Sofiya and Kala directly/ indirectly through a project of cash-for-work after the twin floods in 2012 in Fiji. Both of them participated in the project using their skills and experience in producing bags, cushion covers and others.

The areas Sofiya and Kala live in, Vunayasi and Navakai are low-lying area on the outskirts of Nadi. During heavy rain particularly in cyclone season those areas become flooded more often and quickly than other areas. The places both of them live in are called informal settlements.


Most of land in Fiji (80-90%) belongs to indigenous Fijian through their hierarchical community/ social system. Europeans and part Europeans, who constitute around 2% of the population, own over 5% of the land. Indo-Fijians, accounting for 43% of Fiji’s citizens, own less than 3%.

All other ethnic categories in Fiji, particularly Indo-Fijians who make up more than 80% of the sugar cane growers, and descendants from other islands such as Solomon Islands, till land of indigenous Fijian landowners. There are also a large number of landless indigenous Fijians who, because they belong to landless or land-short mataqalis (indigenous landowning groups), do not own land or, migrated to other provinces or to town for economic opportunities, study, medical treatments, etc.

Among those whose land leases were not renewed during the political turmoil in the late 1990s and early 2000s, some found themselves jobless and homeless with no other option but put together sheets of corrugated metal and tapeline for a shelter in unoccupied land.

“In-group-out-group sentiments and dynamics have been widely used by political leaders to fan ethnic ‘fears’ over ownership and usufruct of land for political ends. With the expiry of agricultural leases under the Agricultural Landlord and Tenants Act (ALTA) between 1997-2005, a great majority of landowners and the Native Land Trust Board (NLTB) have indicated that they would not renew the leases.” (“ALTA and expiring land leases”)


I had a chance to briefly learn from friends in Fiji and articles about land and housing in Fiji and recent history and society around the issue.


In many cases living conditions in settlements do not meet the right to adequate standard of living, including right to housing and water as enshrined in the CESCR and other human rights instruments.  Social stigma and stereotype towards informal settlements make their living more difficult.

“Women and their kids living in over 200 informal settlements like Kalekana yearn for necessities like proper house, water and toilet. But adequate housing for women is about more than just giving them four walls and a roof. It’s about them living in security, with peace and dignity.”(“Beyond Four Walls”)

“I need a decent and affordable house for my four children. We don’t have water, bathroom and toilet. At night, I walk a few houses away to use the toilet. Taking my young ones is even harder. I do this in complete darkness and often feel I am in danger,” she says, with tears running down her grief-stricken face. (“Beyond Four Walls”)

a customer_smallOne of the most difficult things for Sofiya’s family is the path from her house to the main road which quickly gets muddy after rain. The path is wide enough for cars to pass, but after rain, even a four-wheel vehicle driver was hesitant to go in.  The condition hinders her and her family’s access to transport, market, medical and other social services as well as customers from visiting her shop.

One of the participants in a public discussion on journalism and informal settlements shared that there are many people living in settlements who are from broken families. Among people living in settlements with whom a journalist made interview, some were told by local government that they were not qualified to benefit from government social protection schemes.

Talking about “families”, “communities” and individuals rather than “informal settlements” as a whole, lack of or ineffective social protection system, either governmental or customary, for babies, youth, elderly, people with disabilities, illness, jobless and gender discrimination appears as one of the major issues to be addressed as well.


???????????????????????????????“I want people to visit our place and know the situation. I have been working for our rights for long. I want my voices to be heard,” said Kala. She advocates for the rights of people in Navakai settlement and others as part of the Land and Housing Cooperative. She is also a member of the Navakai Multi-racial Women’s Club, which participated in the cash-for-work project in 2012.

sofiya shop_small

Sofiya runs a glossary store at her house, where she displays the bags she made. She also works with people in her community to expand their agricultural and poultry farm. Income from her business enabled her to fix her house which was partially destroyed by the cyclone in 2012. She showed me a colorful quilt as big as a bed cover made by her grand mother. She said she learnt how to sew from the quilt. She does all those things on top of looking after her five-year-old daughter, her mother-in-law next door and household chore for her family.  “We (her group) have skills. Give us opportunities”, she said.

Fiji has not ratified the Convenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.


The 2013 Constitution expressly recognises the iTaukei, says Fijian Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama.

“For the first time, the Constitution and its Bill of Rights provide express protection for the ownership of iTaukei lands, which shall always remain with the customary owners and which shall, under no circumstances, be permanently alienated, whether by sale, grant, transfer or exchange,” he said.

“The Constitution goes further to state for the first time in our history that any iTaukei land which is acquired by the State for a particular pubic purpose must revert to the customary owners if that land is no longer required by the State for that specific purpose.”

“Fiji PM reassures iTaukei through Constitutional provisions”

By Online Editor
09:58 am GMT+12, 06/11/2013, Fiji


§  “Beyond Four Walls”, John Kamea, Mai Life Magazine August Issue

§  Learnings from housing rights workshop in Melanesia PACMAS blog

§  “ALTA and expiring land leases: Fijian farmers’ perceptions of their future”, Professor Vijay Naidu and Dr. Mahendra Reddy, Centre for Development Studies, School of Social and Economic Development, University of the South Pacific (USP) and Pacific Migration Research Network (PacMRN), June 2002

§  “Pilot Fragility Assessment of an Informal Urban Settlement in Fiji”, ADB, March 2013

§  Fiji Government report to CEDAW, 2010,  CEDAW/C/FJI/2-4

§  Fiji Government report to CERD, 2012, CERD/C/FJI/18-20