With more than half of the Northern division in poverty, a new office has been opened to provide support to the increasing number of Civil Society Organisations which will provide services to poor and vulnerable communities.
Michael Brown-John, team leader of the Fiji Community Development Program and John Davidson, minister counsellor for the Australian Agency for International Development, say the program is helping them to reach out to thousands of vulnerable Fijians.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speakers: Michael Brown-John, team leader of the Fiji Community Development Program
John Davidson, minister counsellor for the Australian Agency for International Development
DAVIDSON: Yesterday we opened the Fiji Community Development Program office in the northern region of Fiji on the island of Vanua Levu. This activity is the largest program we've got here in Fiji's supporting civil society organisations with funding of around four-point-three-five-million Australian dollars over five years. The program supports civil society organisations reaching out to thousands of poor Fijians helping them find ways to increase incomes and develop their communities.
COUTTS: Michael Brown-John to you now, how does it work on the ground? You're opening a new office but after that what happens and what will the vulnerable communities of the north actually benefit from this new office?
JOHN: We've got two local staff members based in the north but the office has actually been running for a while but the official opening was yesterday. It's supporting a number of NGOs that have offices based in Labasa, there's about a dozen NGOs, local Fiji NGOs that have offices up there. And there are a number of other civil society organisations that are based in Suva who extend their services to the northern division. So there's a couple of ways that we provide support to these organisations; one is through a grants mechanism, we provide small grants to organisations to provide services to these communities. And the other approach is to provide capacity building support to the organisations to strengthen them, to make them more resilient to assist their organisations to provide better and more relevant services to these communities.
COUTTS: Ok Michael we'll stick with you for a moment, can you just specify what some of those services are because we know that there are not as many services in the north, the Fiji interim government admits that and they've been trying to do something about it as well. So you're enabling NGOs to provide more services but what services are you targetting in the initial stages of this program?
JOHN: There's a broad range of services that the CSO's provide in the north, they range from counselling services to vulnerable groups; women, young people, people with disabiities, support to the visually impaired as well as people living with HIV, community focus climate change adaptation support, reproductive health service support, community planning, improved water and sanitation, ear and eye testing for primary school students, that's just some of the services that the CSO's are supporting in the north.
COUTTS: So it's quite comprehensive. John Davidson back to you now - AusAid they're putting in quite a bit of money for this program now, it's over a number of years, but will it be ongoing after that or will it be one of AusAid's way of going about things, you set it up and then leave it to the locals to keep producing the money to keep the office open and the services going?
DAVIDSON: Look our expectation is that this program will continue for quite a long time. We're talking about as I said before four-point-three-five million Australian a year for five years. We'll keep that under review. But at the moment we're very concerned about increasing levels of poverty, as you said in your introduction, the Fiji Bureau of Statistics says there's about 53 per cent of people in the northern division are poor. There's really no sign of that circumstance changing in the short term. So as long as these services are required then they will continue to work through activities of this kind. We're targetting about 70,000 people in that area, so it's not a small number of people, and these people really do require the kinds of services that Michael is just providing and the activities are a very successful way of providing them.
COUTTS: John Davidson, the services that are being provided are obviously excellent ones and they're needed, but they're sort of after the event so there's no preventative things, so I'm just wondering whether because of the poverty in the area, will you be looking to other industries and help people get jobs so they can buy better food, clothe themselves, educate themselves and be healthier so that a lot of these services won't be needed in the future?
DAVIDSON: I think that's a really good point Geraldine, but I'm sure you can appreciate this isn't the only activity that we're running that's targetting the poor in Fiji. We have an aid program here valued at a little over 100-million Fiji dollars a year, and the entire program is targetted on helping the poorest in Fiji. We have extremely good poverty mapping here and the focus of the program is on the poorest 25 per cent of schools, the poorest 25 per cent of health centres and health facilities, and then also working very directly on what we call community resilience and economic opportunities. So through those longer term activities we hope that we'll be able to help people build their own capacity to be able to help themselves, but in the short to medium term we need to be providing support to these community organisations to provide what, as Michael said, pretty fundamental but very essential services.
COUTTS: Michael Brown-John back to you, you're the team leader, and I guess it'll be your job to assess how these programs are going and that you're actually hitting your target areas. When will the assessments start as to whether your services are hitting the mark?
JOHN: It already has started, we have a monitoring and evaluation framework in place. We have staff not only in Labasa, but we have an office in the west of Viti Levu in Lautoka and we have office staff in Suva. So we will be monitoring activities very closely and I suppose realistically over the next year or two will start being able to produce longer term evaluations of the outcomes of these programs.
COUTTS: Now John Davidson, just a final question to you now, Minister Counsellor for Australian Agency for International Aid Development, in leading up to this, what kind of research did you do on the ground? Were you able to assess the extent of poverty, the number of people in need and therefore the number of NGOs that will be required to carry out the key performance indicators that you require to make this program successful?
DAVIDSON: Yes Geraldine that's exactly the kind of work that led into the preparation for this activity. We've worked with Fiji's own Bureau of Statistics and with the World Bank using survey material that they themselves have produced in the bureau of statistics to produce poverty mapping of Fiji. And this mapping is frankly the best I've seen anywhere in the world. We can drill right down to the tekena or clan level and know where the poorest people are living in Fiji. We can also see where the largest number of the poor are living in Fiji. So looking through the lens of this program, FCDP is focussed on those corridors of where the largest numbers of the poor are living in Fiji, and that's in the north exactly where this Labasa office was opened. And then the re's two other corridors with significant numbers of poor people, running from Nadi around to Ba, Raki Raki in the north and then here in Suva between Suva and Nausori and that's where the majority of this work is focussed and it's also where the majority of the entire Australian aid program here in Fiji is focussed.