The international community is once again being urged to ramp up support for Caribbean countries as they continue to reel from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and try to rebuild their economies.
The issue came under the microscope on Thursday during a UN/UNDP e-conference series on Social Protection as Part of the COVID-19 Response in the Eastern Caribbean.
Premier of the British Virgin Islands (BVI) Andrew Fahie said the Eastern Caribbean has never been more vulnerable than it is now given the far-reaching effects of the viral illness, which was coupled with the major threat of hurricanes over the next few months, even as some countries are still recovering from past hurricane damage.
He pointed out that those circumstances were increasing the social and economic pressures in the EC, which were in turn leading to a rise in vulnerability among at-risk groups including the poor, elderly, sick, women and children and the homeless.
While lauding the UN on its “COVID-19 multi-sectoral response strategy” in supporting countries, Fahie said the region was also grateful for pledges made by international institutions and countries to support developing countries.
However, Fahie, who is the minister of Finance in the BVI, said one of the main challenges facing the region now was how to adequately finance a sustainable COVID-19 response while battling dwindling revenue and finding ways to solve growing economic and social problems.
Fahie said: “Borrowing alone cannot be the answer given the limited borrowing headroom of many governments. This constraint suggests that special external support will be required from the international community.
“I am aware that this has already begun for some of our neighbours. What would also be helpful are as many grants, technical assistance and concessional loans as can be offered to support the COVID-19 response of governments in the Eastern Caribbean.”
Pointing out that the pandemic had highlighted areas of the region’s social protection system that needed strengthening, he added that there was a need for a more robust system for identifying, tracing and supporting the most vulnerable.
St Vincent and the Grenadines Minister of Finance Camillo Gonsalves also called on countries and international institutions in a position to help developing countries to do so.
He said: “I appreciate that every country is looking inward at the moment because they all have a challenge with the pandemic, but the truth of the matter is that the response required in Caribbean states, that are facing additional vulnerability from what is expected to be a busier than usual hurricane season, we are not going to be able to meet these demands without the cooperation and support from our bilateral allies and international development community.”
So far, Barbados has received some level of relaxation in its fiscal targets under its International Monetary Fund programme.
The country also joined others in the region in being able to get assistance from the World Bank through the International Financial Corporation, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Caribbean Development Bank towards the fight of the pandemic.
High Commissioner of Canada to Barbados and the EC Marie Legault said early in the pandemic, Canada recognized the need to help others, adding that it would be ramping up its support for the region.
She said Canada was aware of the threats posed by hurricanes and the tightening economic issues facing the Caribbean and pledged continued support to help the region find “pragmatic solutions”.
Legault said in addition to providing assistance to the Caribbean Community in its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic through regional institutions, Canada was working closely with the UNDP on several of its programmes aimed at reaching the most vulnerable.
Meanwhile, the World Bank’s lead Director for the Caribbean and Latin America Tahseen Sayed pledged continued support for the region.
She said between April and May the World Bank was able to commit some US$5.5 billion in new financing and reorienting existing financing to over 100 countries, ten of which are from the region.
“So ten per cent of the countries are in the Caribbean, who have received the support of up to US$200 million,” she said, pointing out that while the majority of that funding went towards assisting the Dominican Republic, about US$30 million went towards the EC and some other small island states.
“And as we speak now the focus from the World Bank side and approach was first saving lives. We are very quickly moving towards . . . a consolidated approach of saving lives, protecting the poor and vulnerable, and the third part is trying to support countries in their businesses and job creation,” promised Sayed.
She said the World Bank would also be working with countries in the region to rebuild institutions and policies that were required for social and economic sustainability.
“The World Bank Group has given itself a target, and that self-target is that in the next 15 months we will bring in $160 billion more financing. And for the Caribbean similarly, in all the islands where we have active engagement through concessional financing, we are fast-tracking our support including liquidity support,” she added.
Read our ePaper. Fast. Factual. Free.
Sign up and stay up to date with Barbados' FREE latest news.