Dear Editor – After 20 years of closely monitoring societal issues in the Solomon Islands, both on the ground and from afar, I am increasingly alarmed about the high rates of alcoholism manifested in the reported increasing incidences of domestic and family violence, drunk driving, communicable diseases, crimes of violence, including wounding, and cases of vandalism.
The change from an early betel chewing community has spread over the years to communities ever increasing use of alcohol, especially home brew, ‘kwaso.’ and the pervasive and psychoactive use of marijuana.
I recall in 2012 a health expert in the then Solomon Islands Ministry of Health raised concerns about the level of alcoholism and it was said the MOH was to devise a national policy on alcohol consumption which would include an updated survey of drinking habits throughout the country.
At that time, I listened intently to a broadcast on the ABC’s ‘Pacific Beat’ programme in which Nevalyn Laesango, the co-ordinator for non-communicable diseases at the MOH, said a survey of drinking habits in 2005 had revealed that at least a quarter of all men and a fifth of women in the Solomons were binge drinkers.
Laesango went on to answer a question from Geraldine Coutts, the presenter of the programme, saying there was not in place (in 2012) an alcohol policy and that was the reason why alcohol consumption was so high.
He also commented on the difficulty in controlling alcohol consumption because of the illegal brewing and consumption of home brew.
Geraldine Coutts asked of Laesango, “What about kwaso, because that's already an illegal market and probably unknown, how can you target that when you're looking at consumption guidelines?”
Laesango replied, “We're looking at controlling illegal alcohol, like kwaso, and increasing enforcement like police action. We're also looking at excise tax, maybe increasing the tax, and also drink and driving regulations and enforcement."
Now in 2017, five years since Laesango hinted at a proposed alcohol policy and moves to control illegal alcohol, I am perhaps being over pessimistic to say I see only evidence of increasing use of alcohol consumption; including home brew and signs are that the use of marijuana is now widespread.
In my view, no amount of police enforcement, even should it be coupled with a re-doubling of community policing initiatives, will succeed without a whole societal change in habits to critically moderate or stamp out binge drinking, including the illegal brewing and consumption of kwaso – generally known to contain up to three times the alcohol content of commercially produced beer.
The whole problem is very complex in a country where unemployment remains high, jobs are few, urban drift continues unabated and where social change for the better could be improved if only economic opportunities could be enhanced with the much promised free economic zones and improved agricultural development, output and marketing.
Former police commissioner