Opinion by Michael Ronny
At the dawn of every Saturday and Sunday mornings in the Capital Port Vila the usual scene is to see drunkards parading around the streets of Port Vila Town and the outskirts of suburban Port Vila disturbing the peace, stopping vehicles on roads or people under the influence of alcohol driving vehicles at very high-speed in their drunken state. It has therefore become a necessary requirement that pedestrians and road-users take extra care when moving from one place to another during the weekends.
It is obvious that many serious accidents, brutal killings and other criminal activities in the capital and nearby suburbs of Port Vila as well as on the island of Efate occur over the weekend when people are under the influence of alcohol and other substances.
I witnessed a very serious accident last Sunday at Anamburu Area between Anamburu School and Anamburu Park when a small child was almost run over by a vehicle, driven by a female under the influence of alcohol. The child was on his way to the shop when the vehicle came towards him at full speed. There were 3 passengers in the Toyota double cab, and the driver was a lady and allegedly drunk. The kid had no choice but stand still on the side of the road in confusion trying to figure out quickly how to save himself.
From the distance where I was looking from, I had no chance or hope of saving the child if the vehicle were to hit the child. Suddenly, without warning the Vehicle hit a brick wall and crushed right behind the boy, fortunately not doing him any harm.
The boy run to the shop with all shaken and very scared. The child was lucky the drunken driver had held her brakes in time or she would have ran over the boy. The Police arrived at the scene and arrested the lady driver who was very drunk. It was a Sunday morning and this little boy on his way to buy bread at the shop almost lost his life.
Substance use and abuse is as old as mankind itself. Human beings have always had a desire to eat or drink substances that make them feel relaxed, stimulated, or euphoric. The use and misuse of substances, including alcohol, smoking and other illicit drugs, is a growing problem among adolescents in Vanuatu and other Pacific island countries.
Studies from the Pacific have reported that substance misuse is related to growing globalization and the psychological stresses caused by tension between western cultural influences and traditional Pacific values and norms. The misuse of substances is worrying and has grave consequences for not only the user’s health but also both socially and economically.
The costs of substance abuse in Vanuatu and particularly Port Vila are enormous and varied and they are seldom comprehensively assessed. The economic costs of substance abuse include loss of productivity at work, misuse of family finances which is one of the root causes of domestic problems in many homes today, children being denied the right and privilege to education due to non-payment of fees, and not to mention the high costs associated with drug enforcement in society.
Social costs of substance abuse include disruption and neglect of family and poor relationships, increase in criminal and delinquent behaviors as well as gang-related activities, an increase in family and sexual violence and for the younger population academic difficulties and early school leaving due to concentration and mental problems.
Furthermore, health costs associated with substance misuse include risk of exposure to sexually transmitted infections through the inhibiting effects of drugs, longer term contribution to the burden of chronic disease such as lung and other cancers, cardiovascular disease and respiratory conditions, traffic and other injuries which also contribute to immature mortality.
Alcoholism and substance abuse is becoming a major problem for the residents of Port Vila as well as the country as a whole and it is critical that prevention measures are taken and the population at large are provided with support, knowledge and skills to help them cope with the increasing economic and social changes of globalization which are manifesting in the country and particularly our towns. Before it is too late, police need to adopt a “zero-tolerance” strategy towards binge drinking and substance abuse that would see troublesome drunkards arrested, charged and given a criminal record.
If more people knew that if they got drunk they are going to be arrested, they wouldn’t drink in the first place and then end up in a prison cell. If more people knew that they were facing the prospect of a prosecution and having to pay a fine then that would be an effective sanction or deterrent to drinking too much.
Robust action by police is needed to deter binge drinkers and help combat Port Vila’s worsening problem of “gratuitous consumption” of alcohol. There is far too much acceptance that this is normal for a Friday or Saturday night and it is not normal and should not be treated as normal!
As it is now, public education campaigns advising drinkers not to consume more than they should have failed to address the issue of alcoholism and substance abuse and only tougher tactics and strategies are needed to ensure people drink less would have any real effect. While police officers are well versed in being used as social and health workers in their line of duty, locking up drunkards is not the answer to this issue and it is doubtful this approach would really deal with the heart of the issue in the long-term.
This is a national issue, which we need to find a way of effectively tackling it and de-normalise the antisocial, unhealthy drinking behaviour that has become part and parcel of a night out in Port Vila.