A Diversity of COVID-19 Responses for SIDS in a Diverse Region

NEW YORK 4 August, 2020 – The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about significant health and economic risks to Small Island Developing States (SIDS) across the world. Island nations which already face challenges pertaining to their limited financial resources, dependence on trade, tourism, remittances, and high vulnerabilities to external shocks and climate change, bear a disproportionate impact.  

In a meeting organised by OHRLLS, SIDS from the Atlantic, Indian Ocean and South China Sea (AIS) region met with senior representatives from the United Nations and shared experiences on the fall-out of the pandemic on vulnerable island nations.  

While the region was already experiencing major economic challenges prior to the pandemic, the impacts of COVID-19 have heightened existing problems. 

The nine AIS-region SIDS are spread across the Atlantic Ocean (Cape Verde, GuineaBissau, São Tomé and Principe), the Indian Ocean (Comoros, the Maldives, Mauritius, the Seychelles), the Persian Gulf (Bahrain), and the South China Sea (Singapore).  

While the region is geographically dispersed and culturally diverse, these SIDS share many common features and challenges. While they vary in levels of human and economic development, all rely heavily upon natural resources for livelihoods, especially fish, and some face significant economic and environmental challenges.  

As the crisis hit, each country implemented health and economic programmes tailored to their needs.  

In the Maldives, health emergency preparedness began as early as December 2019 and has included the establishment of a National Emergency Operation Center to coordinate and monitor daily operations. This has played a huge part in keeping the national death toll low. 

But, as in many SIDS, the tourism industry in the Maldives has been decimated and 45,000 employees in that sector have been affected. To tackle the impacts of the pandemic, the country has provided support to both large and small businesses and a strong monetary policy has been put in place including exchange rate stabilisation.  

The Maldives has now begun to ease restrictions and is cautiously re-opening its economy. 

Ten thousand kilometres away, off the west coast of Africa, Cabo Verde also moved quickly. In adopting socio-economic measures at the outset of the crisis, the government prioritised not just health but social protection, employment and food security.  

A stimulus package was also put in place alongside an Educational Recovery Plan to ensure the continuity of the academic year. 

Speaking at the opening of the meeting, Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, said “Over the past few months, SIDS have experienced an unprecedented decline in economic activity, with rapidly plummeting tourism and remittance flows, and the disruption of global supply chains.”  

She added, “It is clear that these SIDS will also need targeted and effective international support, in order to innovate and implement bold changes that would boost economic resilience to exogenous shocks, including COVID-19, and to build diversified economies.” 

COVID‐19 is also generating a further liquidity crisis, with major negative socioeconomic impacts. SIDS revenue sources including remittances and tourism are badly hit – a devastation to SIDS economies some of whose tourism sector accounts for almost 30 per cent of GDP.  

Due to sharp falls in tourism revenues and remittances flows, SIDS are likely to experience a pronounced contraction in 2020, further exacerbating their vulnerability to economic and climatic shocks. 

The SIDS National Focal Points (NFP) Network, established in 2018, strengthens coordination at the national, regional and global levels on SIDS-related issues. It is designed to foster peer-learning and the exchange of best practices on the implementation of the SAMOA Pathway, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other global frameworks.  

The network is convened by the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS).