A quarter of businesses in the Pacific are not confident they will survive the coronavirus pandemic despite the region largely avoiding the pandemic health crises seen elsewhere, a survey of businesses across the region shows.
Ninety per cent of businesses have lost money, and many are already struggling with the effects of recent natural disasters. Sixty-five per cent have been “negatively impacted” by weather, including extreme rainfall or temperatures, flooding, drought or rising sea levels over the past year, a further survey by Pacific Trade Invest Australia found.
The impacts on businesses are harming Pacific communities all the way down, to the base fundamentals of families trying to put food on tables. While the Pacific has not seen widespread coronavirus infections, the shutting of international borders has paralysed economies, and devastated household incomes.
Speaking in Lautoka, Fiji, civil society leader Sashi Kiran said in parts of nearby Nadi where police had previously received about three reports of crop theft a week, they were now fielding hundreds a day.
“Please don’t steal, if you are hungry, turn to your religious organisations, turn to your community organisations … we will try our best to make sure people are not sleeping hungry,” Kiran, the chief of executive of Fiji’s foundation for rural integrated enterprises and development, said.
Shamima Ali, from the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre, said her organisation was handing out food parcels “on an almost daily basis” to families that had lost all income, and that people were unable to afford medicines.
Ali said Fijians were resilient and would help each other through the crisis brought by the pandemic shutdown, “but we must stop romanticising the Fijian way of life, the traditional mechanisms”.
“A hotelier who has made millions in this country … just after Covid lockdowns started, said: ‘I don’t have to worry, my staff will go back to the village and they have the sea and the land’. It’s a myth. Yes, some people have it, but it’s putting pressure on people, on land. Does every Fijian own land, have access to land?”
Fiji’s strong familial and communal bonds were holding the country together, Ali said, but they were coming under immense stress.
“A lot of people are surviving because of the love that we have for each other, but how long is that going to last? We are all in the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat. Some are sailing smoothly through, some are in the choppy waters and drowning,” she said.
Businesses across the Pacific are hurting acutely. A survey of 143 businesses across the region by the Pacific Trade Invest network found 90% reported a “negative impact” from the Covid-19 pandemic, including 65% who reported a “very negative impact”.
Ninety per cent of businesses have reported a decline in revenue, and 91% say their local economy has been harmed. Closed international borders, poor cash flow, and a lack of certainty about how long lockdowns and travel restrictions would last, were doing the most harm.
The majority of businesses across the Pacific remain either partly operational (46%) or temporarily closed (22%).
While only 1% of businesses reported having shut their doors permanently because of Covid, more than a quarter (26%) are not confident of surviving the pandemic shutdowns.
A seperate survey run by PTI found nearly two thirds – 65% – of Pacific businesses had been negatively impacted by extreme weather over the past 12 months. Agriculture was especially hard hit, most acutely by increased frequency and severity of storms, extreme rainfall, or increased temperatures.
Caleb Jarvis, trade and investment commissioner with PTI, said the economic impacts of Covid-19 shutdowns and border closures had been profound, and would be long-lasting.
“The leaders of Pacific islands showed strong leadership, they made some big decisions early on, which prevented the health crisis, but they don’t have the funding and the resources available to be able to support businesses and people as other countries have been able to.
“People in the Pacific remain fairly optimistic their businesses will survive, 74% say their business will get through this Covid-19 pandemic, but it will take a long time to get back to pre-Covid levels, only half said by 2021. It will be a very slow recovery: there will be years of pain for a lot of these businesses.”