Pacific islands that rely on tourism should reset their economies and invest in sustainable industries and migrant workers to better weather the impact of disease and disaster, according to a senior United Nations official.
Kanni Wignaraja, head of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) for Asia-Pacific, has urged small Pacific economies that are hit hard by global travel bans to do things differently when they re-open for business and as overseas labour ventures back.
“Use some of these returning migrant workers to actually set up new lines of business and small and medium scale enterprises,” Wignaraja told Reuters.
“Otherwise, instead of a wave of tourists coming, you’re getting a wave of unemployed workers returning home.”
The Pacific islands have had relatively few Covid-19 infections, but have suffered intense economic and social shocks as overseas businesses sent migrant workers home and tourists vanished.
Wignaraja urged island authorities not to see returning migrants as a burden, but instead include them in public works programmes and any stimulus spending.
Many migrant workers had already returned to the Pacific islands, where unemployment – particularly among women and young people – was high before the pandemic, according to the UN.
As governments around the world unleash unprecedented support for economies floored by the pandemic, Wignaraja said the poorest people should not be forgotten.
In the Pacific, stimulus spending should look at boosting sustainable energy and fishing, and tackling plastic waste that ends up in oceans, she added.
Citing clear skies over many Asian cities during lockdowns – places notorious for air pollution – Wignaraja said fiscal packages must not flow into fossil fuels.
“If not doing it now, when are we going to do this - to switch out of fossil fuels?”