Life expectancy of
Ecological footprint of
Vanuatu ranks fourth in the Happy Planet Index results. This tropical chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean has no military and a GDP per capita that’s more than twenty times smaller than neighbouring Australia. Vanuatu has been consistently democratic and peaceful despite its immense cultural diversity (over 100 languages are spoken).
Vanuatu has the highest Happy Planet Index score outside of the Americas. People living in Vanuatu have higher wellbeing than those living in Japan, while Vanuatu’s Ecological Footprint is just a quarter of the size of Japan’s.
What’s working well in Vanuatu?
In Vanuatu, tight-knit social communities meet often to discuss community matters – from conflict resolution to ceremonial planning. A study by Vanuatu’s National Statistical Office cites these regular social meetings as a key factor underpinning strong social connections and material and emotional support that contribute to high levels of wellbeing.
Vanuatu’s relatively low Ecological Footprint isn’t a surprise. The country is well placed to make use of renewables, with hydropower, wind, solar and coconut bio-fuel abundant. In 2011, 34% of the energy Vanuatu consumed came from renewables, and the country aims to be powered by 100% renewable energy by 2030.
What could be improved?
Vanuatu is not a country without challenges. Vanuatu has the second lowest life expectancy of all countries in the top ten Happy Planet Index rankings - unsurprising given the absence of national health provision in the country. While traditional wisdom and knowledge of indigenous languages - important elements of many Oceanic cultures - is strong in Vanuatu, a lack of formal education infrastructure has resulted in school enrolments and attendance that’s among the lowest in the Pacific region. In recent years, Vanuatu's negative reputation as a tax haven has also damaged the country's financial sector, while creating little benefit to the wider economy.
A note on recent events in Vanuatu
Like many small-island nations, Vanuatu is highly vulnerable to natural disasters. In March 2015, Cyclone Pam devastated much of Vanuatu, causing fatalities and extensive damage to all the islands. Like all Happy Planet Index results, Vanuatu’s score is based on pre-2015 data. As a result, the effects of Cyclone Pam are not captured in Vanuatu’s 2016 Happy Planet Index score – though reports suggest that the country has proven resilient in the face of this disaster.
Photo credit: Elyse Patten