Impacts of Tropical Cyclone Harold
The impacts of Tropical Cyclone Harold are being felt in four countries across the region. The death toll has exceeded 30. The largest loss of life is in Solomon Islands as a result of the MV Taimahero disaster, which left 27 missing, presumed dead.
In Vanuatu, more than 150,000 people have been affected, predominantly in the north of the country. Initial assessments indicate that the levels of damage and destruction are comparable with what we saw after Tropical Cyclone Pam in 2015.
Fiji is the only one of the four countries affected to have any cases of COVID-19 confirmed. Managing the risk of community transmission presented additional challenges when seeking to protect the population from the cyclone, especially in relation to use of evacuation centres.
There has been widespread damage in Tonga, including destruction of a popular resort that had been rebuilt after TC Gita had destroyed it in 2018.
Assistance to the Pacific to fight COVID-19
Even though the number of infections in the Pacific islands region remains low, they are increasing. International organisations and development partners have already pledged and provided assistance. Along with pledges or allocations of funding there have been donations in kind. However, concerns remain that there may be limited fiscal space and political will in richer countries to assist Pacific states in addressing either health impacts in the short to medium term or economic effects into the future.
The PRC has established a US$1.9 million fund to support countries in the region, with $200,000 of that already allocated to Tonga.
Australia has announced that portions of existing aid allocations will be redirected to support for countries’ measures to address the impacts of the pandemic.
The USA has also established a regional response fund worth $2.3 million, which will benefit 12 countries in the region.
Elections and political developments
There have been calls in Bougainville for the writs to be issued for the presidential and government elections that are scheduled to take place this year. The issue of the writs has been delayed because of lockdown restrictions related to COVID-19. However, there are concerns that further delays in forming a new government may impede progress on negotiations for the future of Bougainville further to last year’s vote in favour of independence from PNG.
Meanwhile in Vanuatu, Parliament will sit on April 20th. Lobbying and negotiations around how the next government will be formed are intense and ongoing. When the Parliament meets the first order of business will be to elect a Speaker and deputies. The Parliament will then elect the new Prime Minister. As Vanuatu battles to deal with both the Covid-19 crisis and the impacts of TC Harold, decisions are being made by a caretaker Council of Ministers.
Economic impacts of COVID-19 exacerbated by TC Harold
Even in countries that do not have any cases of COVID-19, the economic impacts of the pandemic are being increasingly felt. In Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji (where there are cases) and Tonga, they will be made worse by the impacts of Tropical Cyclone Harold.
Even before a full assessment of the dollar value of the damage caused, authorities in Fiji have calculated that the initial response efforts have cost US1.5 million.
In Vanuatu, the (caretaker) Council of Ministers has redirected US$1 million of the economic stimulus package previously announced to address impacts from the cyclone.
Meanwhile in Marshall Islands, tax revenue is down by approximately 25% for the month of March as key sectors like tourism and aquaculture have contracted significantly.
In Samoa, approximately 500 people have been laid off in the tourism and hospitality sectors.
Tess Newton Cain is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the Griffith Asia Institute.