Bridgetown, (2 June 2020) As the region faces unprecedented levels of unemployment, reduced revenues and loss of foreign direct investment due to the COVID-19 crisis, the United Nations Sub-Regional Team for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean has launched a strategic programme to support the immediate response, relief and recovery for Eastern Caribbean islands affected by the pandemic. As part of this process, the UNST, led by UNDP, has embarked on a 5-part e-Conferences series which got underway today. The e-series, Consultation for Action, to be held during three weeks in June, is designed to address some of the critical challenges facing the region in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also aims to identify innovative solutions for catalyzing recovery and building long-term resilience.
Consultation for Action will bring together five panels comprised of a cross-section of 25 thought leaders including Senior Officials from Caribbean six Governments, four International Financial Institutions, seven Development Partners and eight UN leaders. In his address to open the series, Didier Trebucq, UN Resident Coordinator for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean stated: “Financing recovery and building resilience in Caribbean small states is an imperative we need to tackle together; since the impact of COVID-19, in the long term, will fundamentally be a major economic crisis for the region.” Magdy Martinez Soliman, UNDP Resident Representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, referring to the topic of the 1st session, maintained: “Recovery strategies are needed, and the good news is, this is something the Caribbean has expertise on. But it doesn’t have the capital, the credit, the liquidity and the finance. Thus, we need an extraordinary injection of development assistance.”
The first e-conference, “Development Finance for the COVID-19 Response in the Eastern Caribbean” provided a clear picture of the needs of governments in the region to access development finance to resuscitate and sustain economic growth, and address social issues which have been exacerbated by the current crisis. During the discussion Diane Quarless, Director of ECLAC Sub-regional Headquarters for the Caribbean said, “Touristic expenditure losses will be at least USD$22 billion. The optimistic scenario is looking at over 50% reduction of tourism in 2020.” Expanding on Ms. Quarless’ position, Monica La Bennet, Vice President of Operations Caribbean Development Bank stated, “There is life after COVID-19, and we need to prepare for it, especially supporting small and medium enterprises restore their operations.” Focusing on the analysis of trends and patterns in official development assistance to SIDS, Felipe de la Mota, Head of Regional Integration and Trade of the EU Delegation remarked “The EU is supporting and will continue to support the response to COVID-19 in the Caribbean through grants and direct budget support, that is cash directly in the hands of Caribbean Governments. But it is necessary to mobilise not only liquidity for the public sector, but finance for the private sector.”
The session allowed invited guests and the general public to engage with panelists on relevant and pressing issues impacting the lives of people across the Caribbean. Speaking on the evolving financing challenges facing the region, Ambassador Francine Baron, Senior Advisor to the PM and Former Foreign Minister of the Commonwealth of Dominica, stated “The artificial yardstick of GDP per capita to access development financing is unfair. Our countries need new financing. We need this criterion removed with respect to SIDS and replaced by a measure of vulnerability.” Dr. Yitades Gebre, PAHO/WHO Representative to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Countries, spoke on bolstering the health sector noting, “There will be other peaks. That’s why we need to build resilient health systems to increase our health capacity in the Caribbean.”
On the heels of the first e-conference, the subsequent sessions which take place on June 4, 9, 11 and 16 will focus on social protection, economic diversification, the role of the private sector, food security and the reopening of the economy. To further share the information gained, a number of communication materials will be produced at the end of the series.