Food, fuel and cash in short supply after days of riots shut down Honiara

There is smoke in the air and rubble on ground after days of rioting and arson attacks in Solomon Islands capital of Honiara.

Businesses, schools and even the Prime Minister's residence were set alight and looted by protesters during three straight days of civil unrest.

Now people are struggling to restock food supplies, and there are queues at ATMs and petrol stations as the extent of the crisis begins to take its toll.

Unrest broke out on Wednesday when a peaceful protest calling on Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare to step down turned violent and quickly spiralled out of control of the local police.

Australian troops and Papua New Guinea security personnel arrived in Honiara on Friday to assist local authorities as violence continues.

The capital is now also under a government-enforced curfew between the hours of 7.00pm and 6.00am, which will continue indefinitely.

The main source of the conflict stems from the government's 2019 decision to switch diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China, which led to a deterioration in the relationship between the traditionally pro-Taiwan Malaita province and the central government.

ABC Radio Australia reporter Evan Wasuka is in Honiara and said while some are still looting, the focus for the community has turned to trying to restock food supplies after the Prime Minister's snap 36-hour lockdown on Wednesday caught people off guard.

"I think the main thing for most people was trying to get food supplies for their home," Mr Wasuka said.

But arson attacks on the city's Chinatown district, where looting continued on Friday afternoon, have strained the city's food supplies.

"Chinatown is where a lot of people go for food," Mr Wasuka said.

"It has all the shops, the Chinese shops, which store most of the groceries and things like that."

Shop owners caught up in violence 

If they haven't been burnt down, or looted, businesses in the Chinatown district are closed, as are most others in the city centre.

The Red Cross has been setting out on foot to help stranded shop owners who have been caught up in the violence. 

They have also been helping students stuck at the local university campus. 

"They [the Red Cross] have been transporting workers, students, and shop owners from dangerous areas and getting them to safety," Adrian Prouse from the Australian Red Cross, who has been in contact with his colleagues in the Solomon Islands, said.

He added that volunteers were working to get food and other essentials to people in need as rioting continues.

"There are some shops on the outskirts of the city in the western part, which you have to travel to so that's where people are going," Mr Wasuka said. 

"One of the big things is that public transport is very limited, and then for people who have vehicles, the petrol stations have been closed in the last two days, and a lot of people are now out of fuel.

"ATM's are starting to run out of cash and there have been long lines."

He said the Chinese diaspora in Honiara have kept a low profile since the riots started. 

The Chinese Embassy in Honiara has sent out an alert to the community to stay vigilant, not leave their homes unless it is necessary and to stay away from the demonstrations. 

Business owners in the capital were told to suspend all activities. 

"On November 24th ... anti-government demonstrations took place, and some local Chinese shops were destroyed, smashed and burned," the warning said.

The statement asked the Solomon Islands government to take "all necessary measures to strengthen the protection of Chinese enterprises and personnel and safeguard the safety and legitimate rights and interests of Chinese enterprises and citizens".


Photo ZFM/Reuters/ABC Radio Australia