Shifting Ground

[Originally published in the Vanuatu Daily Post’s Weekender Edition.]

Much has been written since New Year’s about the rise in bus fares. Scarcely a day goes by but someone submits a long and thoughtful letter deploring the increase and suggesting ways to help drivers earn more without charging more.

The reasons for this are obvious. If someone takes the bus to and from work every day, they now spend 6,600 vatu a month just for the privilege of keeping their job. And that’s ignoring using the bus for anything but work. Add in a trip to the market on the weekend, a few visits with family in the course of the week, bus fare for the children to get to and from school… suddenly transportation takes a bigger slice of the household income than just about everything except rent.

We’ve known for some time that it’s very hard for the average ni-Vanuatu to make a living wage. Just about every family I know supplements their cash income via informal channels. They run tiny little mom-and-pop nakamals and road markets that are profitable only because family in the village send them produce at only slightly more than cost. They sew or repair much of what they wear, and wear it until it’s unrecoverable. They grow what they can on whatever land they have. They hold fund-raising when cash shortages become critical.

None of that is enough. The plain fact is this: The more people depend on the cash economy in Vanuatu, the more poor people we will see.

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