Solomon Islands: The painful reality – my day on the road in Honiara

Honiara's Chinatown in ruins
Honiara's Chinatown in ruins - three people found dead in a burnt out building. Image: Robert Iroga/SBM Online

SPECIAL REPORT: By Robert Iroga in Honiara

Honiara residents walked for long distances to find shops and ATMs today with fewer or nor public transport available and the city shops were either closed or in ruins after two days of chaotic rioting and looting.

Today’s painful reality was what the city dwellers woke up to after a 36-hour lockdown following two days of heartless riots and looting that left shops, a school, police stations either looted or burned to the ground in the east and central of the city.

Among those who walked the distance was Lilly and her husband who toiled the road to Point Cruz from Vura only to realise the ANZ ATM had no money.

Next to the couple on the queue was another woman who looked so frail; she too had no money and was hurrying to withdraw her final SI$300 (about NZ$55) only to find the machine was empty. The mother was bitterly disappointed and I could see the agony in her eyes.

“I have nothing to eat. I needed to buy a small bag of rice for my kids who have not been eating since last night. We were never prepared for the lockdown,” she lamented.

“I don’t know, I am hungry, what’s going on,” she could be heard speaking in a soft-voice.

The woman walked from Kukum only to be disappointed with an empty ATM at Point Cruz.

Expressing their grief
Even in their pain, the three were able to express their grief on seeing the burnt and looted face of Honiara — especially Chinatown — on their way to Point Cruz.

Robert Iroga
Robert Iroga … “I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but surely we will suffer.” Image: SBM Twitter

“I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but surely we will suffer. Prices will go up and with the little wages our buying power will be further weakened,” said Lilly.

Across Point Cruz, there were countless people looking for shops and ATM machines. Long queues were experienced in the ATM machines and Bulkshops’ were packed with panic buyers.

“I am spending about $600 [NZ$110] on my shopping. This is the first time I have spent  huge money. It is like half of my fortnight[‘s money] but I have to use it because I don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” said a public officer who did not want to be named.

He added Solomon Islanders were known for buying what’s only enough for the day. But today he’s doing the unusual shopping for the first time due to the uncertain times “we are in”.

With Honiara’s shops closed and manned by private security guards, Bulkshops at Point Cruz and Rove were the only places that people went to for food and other household goods.

In one of their shops, rice was emptied within the first hours of opening.

Long lines of people
Down at White River, the Solomon Motors Refill Station had experienced a heavy turn out of vehicles and it developed long lines of people wanting to refill their vehicles. Regardless of that, everybody had their vehicles served.

Similarly, up in the east, long lines were also experienced at the Didao Refill station as vehicles filled up their tanks.

In the central Honiara, the market opened but with limited supply and prices were hiked by the few sellers.

With whatever Honiara residents could find, whether it was a packet of rice or a bag or even fruits from the market, they mostly walked home as public transport has stopped working most of the day.

Walking was not easy. Many had to navigate the dangers on the road – encountering smashed bottles and other harmful waste on the roads from the loot on their way home.

It is evident on the Kukum highway and even on the pavements that they were littered with fragments and the skyline, especially at Chinatown, was polluted with thick smoke discharging from the burnt buildings.

On my way back to Point Cruz from the east, I saw people walking to all directions.

Shedding tears over disaster
A mother whom I picked up on the way shed tears when we drove past Chinatown. When seeing the little town billowing smoke from the disaster and lying in ruins, she cried.

Within just three days, life in Honiara — which has been rebuilt steadily over the years since the ethnic tensions and the 2006 riots — has been turned into a nightmare.

Our public transport has been interrupted, shops are closing or burned down and life has been turned upside-down. Such is the new normal for Honiara, but surely more painful days are ahead.

Robert Iroga is editor and publisher of SBM Online. He filed this report on Friday, 26 November 2021. It is republished with permission.

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