- By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Mental health crisis looms in Pacific business sector
Business owners in the Pacific region are experiencing “a rapidly worsening state of emotional wellbeing” due to uncertainties brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the Pacific Business Monitor.
“October’s Wave 7 survey saw 74 percent of business owners reporting that Covid-19 is having a negative impact on their mental health,” according to PBM, a monthly survey conducted by the Pacific Trade Invest Network to track the effect of Covid-19 on businesses in the Pacific region.
The new figure represents nearly a 10 percent increase from September, (65 percent), and is the highest figure reported since surveying begun in May.
The World Health Organization earlier this year warned that the Covid-19 pandemic would bring along mental health crisis that underscored the need to urgently increase investment in services for mental health or risk a massive increase in mental health. WHO cited reports indicating an increase in symptoms of depression and anxiety in a number of countries.
The PBM survey showed business confidence continues to decrease with only 67 percent of businesses confident that they will survive the pandemic.
Although the Pacific has remained relatively coronavirus-free, the region is not spared of the economic impact of the pandemic that has paralyzed global tourism, disrupted international trade and shrunk remittances.
The survey also revealed 93 percent of businesses in the Pacific have reported a decline in revenue and 33 percent are not confident their business will survive after Covid-19.
The PTI Network is an agency of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and is the Pacific’s leading trade and investment promotion agency.
"The proportion of businesses expecting to return to business as usual in 2020 and 2021 have both declined. Almost one third expect to return to business as usual 2022 or later and another third are unsure," the survey said.
Tourism is the major driver of most Pacific economies, hence travel bans and restrictions on gatherings are affecting business operations across the region.
Among the highlights of this month's survey are as follows:
The proportion of businesses reporting a decline in revenue due to Covid-19 is the highest since reporting began at 93%.
There is increased uncertainty in the market, with over a third of businesses responding that business will return to pre-COVID-19 levels in 2022 or later, with another third unsure.
A higher number of female-led/owned businesses are reporting a significant decline in revenue, 78% compared to 60% of male-led/owned businesses.
Top three challenges as a result of Covid-19 remain as:
91% Impact of closed international borders.
91% Not knowing how long the crisis will last.
85% Poor cash flow.
Top 4 initiatives businesses need assistance with:
46% Financial support.
36% Access to new markets.
36% Review/Update financial position.
32% Improving/implementing online-commerce capabilities.
Individual reports for Cooks Islands, Tuvalu and Nieu showed that 93 percent of business owners have reported a significant revenue decline.
“It’s clear that the prolonged duration and uncertainty of the pandemic is taking a terrible toll on business owners, their personal finances, livelihoods and emotional states. With no concrete timelines of when borders might open, many businesses are in a very unusual limbo where they are not able to forecast or plan," said Caleb Jarvis, commissioner of PTI Australia Trade & Investment.
He noted that the uncertainty is compounding the stress for Pacific business owners as reflected in the latest survey results.
"It’s important that as a business community we are taking the time to check in with business owners, who are ultimately bearing the weight of navigating how their business will survive the current crisis,” Jarvis said.
Esmeralda Lo Tam, mental health advocate and founder of Samoa’s Ei8ht Sports, and Australia’s Ei8ht Goals, raised concerns about the future impact of the mental health crisis on the Pacific islands communities.
"Through our recent history, tcking the effect on the mental wellbeing of Pacific people post-cyclones and other natural disasters, we have seen the devastating effect that times of stress has had on our wellbeing and economy," Tam said. “Covid-19 is no different and I do worry about what is in store for our communities in coming months, or even years, if we don’t find ways for our people to recognise and alleviate the stressors we are facing."
Read related stories
After defeating coronavirus, Pacific islands are now bracing for economic meltdown