The human cost of Covid-era recession in the Pacific

By Dane Moores, Jonathon Gurry

The socio-economic impacts of Covid-19 are devastating communities in the Pacific and Timor-Leste as much as the virus itself, and sometimes to an even greater extent.

World Vision surveyed 752 households (with an average of six people per household) in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste and Vanuatu in late 2020 to better understand the secondary impacts of the pandemic at the community level.

The sample size was relatively small (because the survey was done in an emergency context under government restrictions), but still the results provide valuable insight into the deep and sometimes unexpected knock-on effects of Covid-19 in the region.

Unsurprisingly, loss of livelihoods was the number one concern for the households surveyed. Almost 60 percent of respondents had either lost their job, lost income, or resorted to alternative sources of income due to the economic impacts of the pandemic.

The top five reasons cited by households for this loss of income were reduced demand for goods/services (29 percent), closed markets (20 percent), lack of access to livelihood inputs such as seeds and materials (18 percent), movement restrictions (15 percent), and transport limitations (10 percent).

These disruptions are crippling the same industries that are the traditional drivers of Pacific economies – tourism, agriculture, small- and medium-sized business and money sent home by seasonal workers.

Street vendors and farmers have been the hardest hit, with 56 percent of vendors and 55 percent of agriculture and livestock workers saying their work was fully or severely affected by the pandemic in the two weeks before the survey.

This data is consistent with concerns raised by the