by Marlon Madden
Leaders in Barbados and other small island development states are being warned to address issues of inequality as they put policies in place to aid economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and as they seek to tackle issues relating to climate change.
This was highlighted on Monday, day one of the Island Innovation’s Island Finance Forum (IFF) 2022, which is being held under the theme Investment for Sustainable Development.
During the session Leave No One Behind: Building an Equitable and Inclusive Recovery for Island Communities, Stefan Kossoff, Development Director for the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) in the Caribbean for the UK, recalled the devastation that Barbados and other regional economies faced as a result of recent hurricanes and other tragic events.
He said they pointed to the importance and urgency of the need for support for the strengthening of regional capacity to better prepare for and respond to shocks and address long-term implications for climate change.
“The last two years have also underlined what we already knew, that disasters disproportionally impact women, youth, the elderly and persons with disabilities, with that gap with the haves and have nots seemingly growing,” he said.
He argued that as countries sought to address climate change and support economic recovery, it was critical that leaders take a “head on” approach in tackling the issues of inequity and exclusion.
Kossoff noted that as the region starts to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic there is a growing risk of the inequality gap widening. “It is therefore essential that inclusion and equity issues are factored into policy responses from governments and also from the international community. I think it means that we have to think about five things,” he said.
“Firstly, we need to have inclusive and accountable processes which put the perspective of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups at the heart of programme and policy design. Secondly, we need strong social protection systems and safety nets, which can smooth the impacts on the poorest and avoid the deterioration of their long-term prospects
“Thirdly and critically, we need high-level ownership and leadership to put social and gender dimension at the centre of national efforts around climate change and economic recovery. Fourthly, we do need to focus on economic diversification. This is a region that relies on one or two sectors.
And lastly, we need to rise to the data challenge. The point being, if we can’t measure poverty and inequality outcomes we can’t know if we are making suitable progress to tackle these challenges,” Kossoff explained. He said the UK would continue to support an inclusive recovery through its various programmes. Also addressing the five-day forum, Premier of the British Virgin Island Andrew Fahie cautioned that as small island developing states sought to invest in sustainable development, they should find ways to “extend some sort of safety net” for workers in the informal sector.
Indicating that youth unemployment and the pay gap between men and women were also concerns for small island developing states, Fahie said “in the recovery process greater advocacy for youth and women is needed.” This, he said, should be accompanied by targeted interventions and policy changes, adding that young people needed better preparation to join the economy “as opposed to fading away into the informal sectors that carry great risk”.
Fahie said the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the digital divide and several other inequalities in communities across small island developing states, and he urged Caribbean leaders to make internet access available to all residents.
“We need to ensure that access is available in public spaces such as libraries, community centres and specific hotspots in towns and villages, so that those persons without service at home can have some sort of access,” he said.
“Greater digitisation can also make small island developing states more resilient to external shocks particularly natural disasters and catastrophic events, by strengthening our ability to bounce back quickly and reengage in the digital economy,” he said.
As concerns about food security continue to rise given the global supply chain disruptions, Fahie also pointed to the need for greater investment to be made in agriculture and fisheries, noting that “more investment in these sectors is needed for their expansion.”
“As small island developing states recover, we must keep in mind that there can be no separation of economic recovery from social recovery and the building of greater resilience across the society. They are intimately tied together and can no longer be separated if small island developing states are to grow and develop sustainably over the long-term,” he said.