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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 9/30/21

The Real Cost of the COVID-19 Pandemic's Impact On Small Island Developing States (SIDS)

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The "sexy" part of the COVID-19 Pandemic is the daily humdrum and drip-drip of the death toll statistics, new infection numbers, and how unvaccinated, ignorant people are the retarding forces preventing the world from licking this deadly disease. Social Media, in particular Facebook, is where COVID-19 disinformation and conspiracy theories live and are pregnant and the go-to place for scared, anxious segments of the global populace to get information and chime in on the debates. Lost in the shuffle of egoistic narcissistic displays and Google-minted "instant experts," is the true impact of the Pandemic on small island developing states now getting hammered by the deadly virus.

In regions like the Caribbean, COVID-19 will wreak more havoc than any major hurricane and is projected to have a long-lasting economic, political and social impact for years to come. Moreover, these SIDS will have to learn to live with the virus that will in the long and short run kill literally thousands of people. A poor, ineffective and inefficient health infrastructure coupled with a dependency on tourism as the most important economic engine will leave CARICOM nations in an extremely sorry state if and when the pandemic subsides.

To be sure, the Bahamas in the Caribbean and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean to Fiji in the Pacific and Cape Verde off the African Coast, these sunny tourist-destination paradises have long been home to indigenous populations, an oasis for tax havens, and an ever-growing getaway for millions of tourists. However, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic disrupting international travel and tourism, these small island-nations have suffered greatly from the repercussions of a lack of tourism dollars being injected into their fragile and dependent economies.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the usual percentage of gross domestic product, or GDP, from tourism for most developing countries is around 5%. However, for SIDS, the average share stands at over 20%. This means that an over-reliance on the tourism industry has proven to be a highly fragile aspect of the SIDS economy, since tourism numbers decreased drastically and dramatically since the start of the pandemic (2019) as did revenues overall. These shortfalls and glitches and disruptions in the global supply chain has cause runaway inflation rates, high cost of food products and spotty import regimes, I predict that in the Caribbean region we will start to see BOTH food shortages AND very high prices for food staples like rice, flour and sugar.

This drastic fall in imports, economic activity, employment and overall quality of life in the Caribbean region highlights how fragile almost total reliance the tourism industry can be for a region that is overly reliant on it. As the industry depends on several foreign factors that SIDS have virtually no control over, they have found this pandemic to be a "wake up" call to start looking into economic and industry diversification efforts. This is something that progressive thinkers have been urging the Caribbean to do for over two decades now. I am yet to see a comprehensive economic diversification plan that is built on a set of sustainable matrices like textile production and light manufacturing. Such a plan must rethink how Caribbean governments invest in critical infrastructure like healthcare.

It must also include a new approach to small business development, education, and youth programs, as well as investments in green technology that will drive job creation. COVID-19 has exposed a non-existent social safety net program that benefits workers and their families during tough times. The economic conundrum for the Caribbean now reeling under the negative impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic is that over 40% of all small and medium-sized businesses will close for good in the next 5 months or so - if things remain the same.

And most alarming, it is my view that if there are no diversification programs and efforts implemented right now, the CARICOM regional economy will remain vulnerable to other external factors like climate change, more regular super hurricanes, and other international financial crises. For now, the most serious issue for Caribbean SIDS is how to quickly ramp up to pre-pandemic tourist visitor levels while putting in place the necessary safeguards to protect the community. Money, and its scarcity, will have a very negative effect on the ability of these small nations to expand, innovate and grow.

Caribbean leadership will also be a critical dynamic in any recovery plans. This leadership must understand that the region will never be the same again but that there is opportunity in the chaos that COVID-19 has wrought. Informed, pro-active and forward-thinking leadership will be indispensable as to if the Caribbean region launches a sustainable re-development post-COVID-19 regime or if it takes a retrograde, backward and reactionary step that helps create a protractive series of unintended consequences and crises. The ball, as they say, is in the CARICOM leadership's court.

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MICHAEL DERK ROBERTS Small Business Consultant, Editor, and Social Media & Communications Expert, New York Over the past 20 years I've been a top SMALL BUSINESS CONSULTANT and POLITICAL CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST in Brooklyn, New York, running (more...)

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