The $305 million in yesterday’s budget for the Pacific and Timor-Leste’s COVID-19 recovery is a step in the right direction but not nearly enough to meet the scale of the challenge, aid agency CARE Australia is warning.
Australia’s poorest neighbours, such as Papua New Guinea, have desperately under-resourced health systems that have struggled to prepare for and respond to the pandemic, while meeting other health needs. Border closures have devastated many Pacific Island nations’ economies given the reliance on tourism and labour migration.
CARE Australia CEO Peter Walton says: “This pandemic and its repercussions will not be over for anybody until it’s over for everybody. Australia’s recovery depends on the recovery of our regional neighbours.”
“Both locally and globally, COVID-19 is widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Our neighbouring countries have some of the world’s highest rates of poverty and gender inequality, and COVID-19 is only making that worse.”
“Women especially have suffered the brunt of this pandemic and its flow-on effects. Our development response should seek to address this uneven burden.
“Australian aid has been instrumental in lifting people out of poverty and creating more equal opportunities for women and girls, yet we’ve been giving less and less since 2014. This lack of investment, and now COVID-19, threatens to undo so much progress.”
The new recovery fund is not classified as aid and details about it are still unclear. But the amount earmarked for aid has decreased slightly to $4 billion.
Mr Walton said: “Whilst Australia’s 2020-21 aid budget is low, both historically and in comparison to other OECD countries, this is a time of enormous need, especially in developing countries. Spending our assistance in a way that supports the most vulnerable and protects gains made over many years is critical.
“For poor nations already grappling with poverty, and especially for our Pacific neighbours on the frontlines of climate change, the COVID-19 crisis creates an extra set of compounding challenges.
“This pandemic has highlighted how interconnected our world is. Supporting vulnerable people – especially women – through this crisis and building their resilience to future shocks is in everyone’s interests.”