Aftershocks of covid-19 threaten to undo gains across Pacific, says report

Pacific Aftershocks
Pacific Aftershocks ... "while much of the Pacific has not had local cases of covid-19 there has been a tragic human cost due to the economic fallout." Image: World Vision report

By Don Wiseman, RNZ Pacific deputy news editor

Experts are warning that development gains across the Pacific region over the past 10 years could be undone due to the challenges of the covid-19 pandemic.

The aid organisation World Vision wants a once in a life time multinational effort to rebuild Pacific livelihoods that have been shattered by the pandemic.

In the Pacific Aftershocks report, World Vision reveals the results of a survey of households across the region.

The Pacific Aftershocks report
The Pacific Aftershocks report. Image: World Vision

It said while much of the Pacific had not had local cases of covid-19 there had been a tragic human cost due to the economic fallout.

World Vision New Zealand’s TJ Grant said the economic devastation could take a greater toll than the virus itself.

Grant said that while many Pacific nations managed to keep infections and transmissions at bay, vulnerable people were now facing the huge cost of closed borders and isolation.

“Almost two-thirds of households have either lost jobs or lost income and have had to resort to other alternative sources of income.

‘One in five houses skip meals’
“Related to that one in five houses is having to skip meals or having cheaper meals because they can’t afford to have a healthy diet. One of the compounding factors here is that through the covid pandemic food prices have risen significantly in many Pacific countries,” Grant said.

PNG Children on Highlands Highway
PNG children walking on the Highlands Highway. Image: Koroi Hawkins/RNZ Pacific

One of the nations worst hit by the economic downturn caused by the pandemic is Vanuatu.

World Vision’s country director in Vanuatu, Kendra Gates Derousseau, said Vanuatu had managed to keep covid out yet its food prices had soared by 30.6 percent.

She said this put healthy food out of reach for countless urban ni-Vanuatu.

“Vanuatu is quite dependent on imports, particularly for urban households that work and cannot spend their time doing agricultural gardening and featuring fresh food. And also the price of transport has gone up significantly because the importation of petrol has slowed down,” she said.

People lining up to get food supplied from Save the Children on the main island Viti Levu.
People lining up to get food supplied from Save the Children on the main island Viti Levu. Image: RNZ Pacific/Save the Children

World Vision wants Australia and New Zealand to lead a once in a generation step up to help these developing nations overcome the devastating impacts of covid.

It is looking for a comprehensive international programme of support for economic recovery and to address key economic, health and child welfare issues.

Stunted growth exacerbated
Grant said stunted growth, as a result of poor nutrition, was a perennial Pacific problem, and occurrence like the virus and its aftershocks exacerbated it.

Derousseau said New Zealand and Australia and other donor nations could not abandon the Pacific when they were most needed.

“The covid-19 pandemic is a global phenomenon as well as climate change and we know that the Pacific Island nations are extraordinarily affected — even more so than other regions of the world, and so a regional crisis like this requires a regional response.”

Roland Rajah is a development economist with Australian think tank, the Lowy Institute. He has written that the Pacific will be economically put back 10 years by the pandemic.

Vanuatu children
Ni-Vanuatu children … healthy food out of reach for countless urban ni-Vanuatu. Image: RNZ Pacific

Rajah told RNZ Pacific it was definitely among the worst affected by the lockdowns.

“Already other parts of the world, South East Asia, even sub-Saharan Africa, Latin American, the Caribbean, they are all on the rebound already,” he said.

“Their prospects for recovery are much stronger than for the Pacific. And there are a variety of reasons for that, but it’s fair to say that it’s amongst the worst affected anywhere in the world.”

He said the Pacific nations typically can’t follow the path of the developed nations and provide stimulis packages because they don’t have the funds.

But he suggests properly targetted infrastructure investment — that that is aimed at also addressing climate change — assisted by the metropolitan powers, may go some way to providing employment and incomes boosts.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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