Geography, Earth Science and Environment

Geography, Earth Science and Environment

Exploring Informal Urban Settlments in Suva, Fiji: Growth and Environmental Implications


By Nemaia W. Koto

Below is a condensed version of Nemaia's report, for the full version in .pdf format click here.


Informal settlements, commonly referred to as “squatter settlements” has many definitions, but one that will be used in this report is given by Walsh (1978). As compared to other urban centres in Fiji, Suva has the most social and economic attractions that are considered to be pull factors for most people in rural areas. Among other attractions, it is perceived to have job oppurtunities, exemplary health services and quality educational services which are largely lacking in rural areas.

The growth in urban areas and the subsequent decrease of population in rural areas can be visible in the last 4 decades, the time period preceding independence in 1974 (Table 1). This trend of migration from rural areas was confirmed by a study done by United Nations Development Program (UNDP) which stated that “the number of people living in informal housing in all Fiji towns is increasing more rapidly than urbanization as a whole” (UNDP, 1997). This study seeks to explore more about informal settlements in Suva, Fiji. Specifically, the research objectives are:

  • To find out the number and the locations of  informal settlements in Suva in 1970
  • To determine the numbers and the locations of informal settlements in Suva now
  • To investigate the environmental risks of informal settlements in Suva.

Study Area

The general Suva area is the chosen study area. Accommodating the capital of Fiji, this urban centre is a prime location for rural to urban migration and a growing urban area such as this only serves as an area for those looking to set-up housing in the informal manner. The study area accommodates 74, 481 people (Fiji Islands Bureau of Statistics, 2007) and the city is run by a municipal government- Suva City Council, headed by the Special Administrator, Chandu Umaria. It is located in the Central Division of Fiji, and comes under the province of Rewa, and the city area encompasses 790.5 sq mi (2,048 km2) of land.

View Nemaia's Map in a larger map


Data that was collected from both primary and secondary sources:

  • Primary Source
    • Mapping of informal settlements with the use of a GPS receiver
  • Secondary Source
    • Comprehensive search on published reports, articles and books in the library
    • Data from relevant government offices (i.e. Ministry of local government, urban development, housing and environment)


According to the study done by Walsh (1978), there were a total of 16 “informal settlements” within the greater Suva area. However, classification for these squatter settlements was somewhat more comprehensive, and categorized them as five different “squatter environments”:

1.     Fijian villages in the City (CV)

2.     City Indian Settlements (CI)

3.     Fijian Renters (FR)

4.     Fijian in Urban Area (FUA)

5.     Indian in Urban Area (IUA)

It should be noted that for this particular project, emphasis is on the greater Suva area (chosen study area) which is within the Suva boundary, and comparison of the number of informal settlements is taken from within this city boundary.

Tabular representation of GPS location taken of informal settlements in study area



GPS co-ordinates

Relevant Location



S: 18.12°

E: 178.45°

Bayview Heights, Nabua


Jittu Estate

S: 18.12°

E: 178.45°

Along Grantham Rd, Raiwaqa


Nanuku Settlement

S: 18.13126°

E: 178.46135°

Nanuku Street, off Fletcher Rd- Vatuwaqa


Wailea Settlement

S: 18.13251°

E: 178.45482°

Wailea Rd, off Fletcher Rd- Vatuwaqa


Muanivatu Settlement

S: 18.14274°

E: 178.45419°

At the junction of Statham Rd and  Fletcher Rd, Vatuwaqa



Moce Settlement

S: 18.15097°

E: 178.45090°


Behind Maritime School, Queen Elizabeth Drive.


Delailaucala Settlement

S: 18.14478°

E: 178.44218°

Along Laucala Bay Rd, Opposite Vatuwaqa Primary School


Nacovu Settlememt

S: 18.144089°

E: 178.44099°


Barrett Street, Off Laucala Bay Rd.


Namadai Settlement

S: 18.10959°

E: 178.45256°

Salato Road, Namadi Heights


Ragg Avenue Settlement

S: 18.10695°

E: 178.45587°

End of Ragg Avenue


Cunnigham, Stage 1

S: 18.10531°

E: 178.45660°

Cunnigham Road


Cunnigham, Stage 2

S: 18.09716°

E: 178.45569°

Cunningham Road


Cunnigham, Stage 3

S: 18.09079°

E: 178.45364°

Cunningham Road, Tacirua


Tacirua East

S: 18.08491°

E: 178.45248°

Along Princess Road, Tacirua


Delaitamavua Settlement

S: 18.08675°

E: 178.44984°

Along Tamavua Road, Tamavua


Tamavua Village (i)

S: 18.09530°

E: 178.4461°

Along Princess Road, Tamavua


Tamavua Village (ii)

S: 18.09927°

E: 178.44205°

Along Princess Road, Tamavua


Sailoma Settlement

S: 18.09263°

E: 178. 43587°

Wailoku Road, Tamavua


Savura Settlement

S: 18.08853°

E: 178.43646°

Wailoku Road, Tamavua


Korolailai Settlment

S: 18.09189°

E: 178.42540°

Wailoku Road, Tamavua


Efiraca Settlement

S: 18.11277°

E: 178.44205°

Off Princess Road, Namadi Heights


Villimaria Settlement

S: 18.11085°

E: 178. 44373°

Off Princess Road, Namadi Heights





Therefore in a period of 33 years (1978- 2011), a total of 6 informal settlements has formed. A major contrast can be seen in the number of informal settlements from the study done in 1976 by Walsh and this particular project. However, it should be noted that this are six informal settlements that the researcher knows about, it doesn’t take into account those that maybe forming or are “unknown” to the researcher.

The environmental vulnerabilities that these settlements face are result of their building materials. Majority of these houses (if not all of them) are made of corrupted corrugated iron, loose timber that were either bought or borrowed from relatives that were once living in these informal settlements. For the settlements residing in the coastal areas of Suva i.e. Vatuwaqa area, they are vulnerable to flooding when there is heavy downpour or an occurrence of a cyclone or hurricane. The other settlements on the periphery of the city (i.e. Laucala, Tamavua area) are more vulnerable to house fires, and landslides as most of the houses are densely packed together without any proper room spacing them out. This improper planning of where to build the houses is a common feature of informal settlements.

However, for older settlements like that of Jittu Estate (Raiwaqa), Namadai Settlement (Tamavua) there seemed to be evidence of proper planning and evolved by showing signs of hierarchical social standings (village court with village elders) that is responsible for allocation of space and settlement of disputes.  These two settlements are exceptional in the sense that roads have been developed and squatters have been given the opportunity to purchase sub-divided lands. This type of development is rare for all informal settlements.

Map of Informal Settlements Surveyed with GPS for this Study


According to a UNDP report (2001), “the proportion of people living in urban areas increased from 30 percent in 1960 to 49 percent in 2000 and is expected to reach 60 percent by 2015”. This increase in urbanization results in the increasing number of squatters.

Taking note of the increase in informal settlements is vital for urban development theorists, because it provides more understanding in ways to counter the problems associated with informal or squatter settlements. Several reasons associated with growth of informal settlements include:

  • POVERTY: squatters are usually the poorest people with absolute poverty, unemployed or survivors based on social welfare assistance or pensions. They are also self employed largely involved in informal activities (Mohanty, no date).
  • RURAL- URBAN MIGRATION: towns and cities grew mainly because of the slow development of rural areas in terms of education, health care facilities and infrastructures (in terms of roads, bridges and buildings). These services were the “pull” factors for people migrating to urban areas. The migration of people put pressure on urban services and infrastructure (especially with housing) and many had to turn to informal settlements for shelter. (Barr, 2007).
  • INADEQUATE SUPPLY OF AFFORDABLE HOUSING: in this time and age with the ever increasing cost of living, and the high number of people migrating to urban areas, the demand  for affordable housing  surpasses the supply of housing by government. Although housing schemes was provided by the government (e.g. Fiji Housing Authority, Public Rental Board), that would help solve this problem of inadequate housing, the demand for it still supersedes the supply.
  • EXPIRY OF LAND LEASES: displaced farmers and those dependent on them, like cane cutters) are converging on the outskirts of town, overcrowding already populated squatter areas, occupying marginal land (mangroves, swampy lands, and dumping areas), thus posing dangerous health and ecological problems, aggravating health related problems in poorly services squatter settlements (Barr, 2007).

Additionally, these reasons further exacerbate problems for residents of informal settlements, which have been summarized Kevin Barr (2007):

  • Insecurity of land tenure
  • Substandard housing
  • Poverty- hunger, lack of good nutritious food, and school drop outs
  • Unemployment and low wages for those with jobs
  • Health and problems (skin diseases, diarrhea) caused by overcrowding, lack of good drainage and sewerage, poor hygiene
  • Stress, worry, frustration and hypertension
  • Unsustainable environment for upbringing and education of children.

Therefore in conclusion, the increase in number of informal settlements can be attributed to the factors mentioned and discussed earlier.

Conclusion and Recommendation

This dilemma of increasing number of informal settlements, has been viewed as a negative issue for the nation, however, an excellent idea posed by Chand (2007), in his article titled Squatters, A Ticking Time Bomb?. In it he suggested that “new arrivals (rural to urban drift) can be a problem, but they could equally be a resource for development. Squatters, in any case, are here to stay, thus there is little choice but to draw them into productive (rather than destructive) enterprise”.  He goes on to say that knocking down houses, businesses and attempting to send them ‘home’ is not realistic, but evidence of the ignorance of policymakers of the “resource” at their disposal.

For the purpose of the report, this recommendation of using this resource is a fairly unexploited method that should be taken into consideration by relevant governmental agencies. For the settlements that were studied, there was only one particular settlement that used their developed area (subdivided land system) as an advantage for the betterment of their housing situation. Residents of Namadai sub division (formerly known as Delainamadi), took it upon themselves to start a co-op, that would tender for grass cutting contracts by the Suva City Council. This has helped provide employment for families in the sub division, as well as several other community initiatives (like welfare for the widowed, and contribution towards the building of their church).

In conclusion, one can say that informal settlements are here to stay, strategically uprooting households has proved to be inefficient in solving the problem, however, resources that these settlements have can be molded (with skills training and provision of entrepreneurial activities) to be a platform of development. Furthermore, another recommendation that can also be made is the provision of affordable low cost housing that suites the wages profile of the people. Stakeholders, both governmental and private should have a dialogue about this dilemma, and voices of both parties should be heard, especially those that are considered to be squatters. Finally, development of rural areas should also be a priority for policymakers in order to reduce the migration of rural to urban area.


Barr, K. J (2007). Squatters in Fiji: The need for an attitudinal change, Citizen Constitutional Forum Housing and Social Exclusion Paper, Suva, Fiji.

Chand, S (2007). Squatters, A ticking time bomb, Island Business International, Suva, Fiji.

Fiji Islands Bureau of Statistics (2007). 2007 Census of Population and Housing, Suva, Fiji.

Mohanty, M (no date). Urban squatter, informal sector and livelihood strategies of poor in Fiji Islands, University of the South Pacific, Suva, Fiji.

United Nations Development Program and Government of Fiji (1997).  Fiji Poverty Report, Suva- UNDP, Fiji.

United Nations Development Program (2001). Human Development Report. UNDP, Suva, Fiji.

Walsh, A.C. (1978). The question of urban squatter settlement, Massey University, Australia.

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