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Action Urgently Needed To Combat The Devastating Impact Of Covid-19 In The Pacific, Says World Vision Report

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, and the region could face a lost decade of economic progress unless action is urgently taken*.

This warning is one of many presented in a new report by World Vision, following its survey of people across Pacific nations and Timor-Leste, which has revealed the tragic human cost of the economic fallout of Covid-19. The report looks at the impact of the pandemic on livelihoods, food security, child protection, water, sanitation and hygiene and health services.

The Pacific Aftershocks report confirms that many people in Pacific nations have lost jobs and incomes, are skipping meals, missing out on vital healthcare and sending their children to work, as they are buffeted by the economic headwinds of Covid-19.

Key findings from the Pacific Aftershocks report:

  • Almost 60% of households have either lost jobs, lost income, or resorted to alternative sources of income
  • One in five households is skipping meals or eating cheaper meals because they can’t afford a healthy diet
  • 40% of households indicated that fresh food was only available ‘at times’ and 5% noting fresh food was unavailable at all times
  • One in seven families has sent their children to work to make up for lost income
  • Access to every form of healthcare has decreased since the pandemic
  • Violence against children is spiking as family stress increases, with 80% of parents or caregivers using physical punishment and/or psychological aggression against their children

World Vision New Zealand International Partnerships Director TJ Grant said that for our Pacific neighbours, the economic devastation of the pandemic could take a greater toll on people than the virus itself.

“While many Pacific nations managed to keep infections and transmissions at bay, vulnerable people are now facing the huge cost of closed borders and isolation,” he says. “A worrying number of families are going hungry because people have lost jobs and incomes, and because food is not just harder to come by, but it is more expensive since the pandemic.”

Between February 2020 and June 2021 food prices in Vanuatu had risen 30.6 percent, 7.4 percent in Papua New Guinea, 4.2 percent in the Solomon Islands and 17.7 percent in Timor-Leste – putting healthy food out of reach for countless households.

Widespread loss of livelihoods and reduced incomes mean there is less money to buy food, at the exact time that food (especially nutrient-rich food) is becoming more expensive and less available due to supply chain disruptions from lockdowns. Rising food prices have a much greater impact on people in low-income countries since they spend a larger share of their income on food than people in high-income countries.

Most people in the Pacific get their food from local markets, however since Covid-19 hit, fresh food and basic food items have become increasingly difficult to access. Street vendors and farmers have been the hardest hit since, with 56 percent of vendors and 55 percent of agriculture and livestock workers reporting being “severely affected” by the pandemic in the two weeks leading up to the survey.

The traditional drivers of Pacific economies – tourism, agriculture, small and medium-sized business and money sent home by seasonal workers – have been affected by border closures and other measures designed to prevent the spread of the virus.

The report found the situation in the Pacific has potential to worsen the nutrition crisis already in the region and impact a generation of children – tipping this to be one of the biggest challenges facing the Pacific in the coming decade.

“Covid-19 had amplified the risk for children in the Pacific region, increasing the risks of violence, child labour and other forms of harm as families struggle to cope. We’re committed to doing everything we can to help families in the region, already grappling with vulnerabilities, so that they can have more access to basic necessities and see improved livelihoods,” adds Grant.

World Vision New Zealand is calling for a once-in-a-generation, multi-country response to rebuild livelihoods and lives across the region. Its recommendations for that recovery include five key initiatives:

  • Develop a joint Covid-19 Inclusive Green Economic Recovery Compact to rebuild the regional economy that builds resilience to future shocks
  • Implement a key initiative to address child stunting, undernutrition and food insecurity
  • Follow PNG’s lead by joining the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children
  • Commit to achieving universal, equitable access to safe, affordable drinking water for all communities across the Pacific by 2030, and to adequate sanitation and hygiene for all by 2030
  • Address the secondary impacts of the pandemic on infectious diseases and primary health care challenges such as HIV, TB and malaria, maternal and neonatal health, and child immunisations.

*https://www.lowyinstitute.org/publications/lost-decade-pacific as included in World Vision’s Pacific Aftershocks Report

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