In a region with no COVID-19 cases, the pain is still felt

July 9, 2020


This is the dawn of a new era for Samoa and the Pacific. Although there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in any of the four countries and territories our office is supporting, the restrictions on international travel and public transport, including the suspension of inter-island ferries, have triggered changes in social dynamics, suspended business operations and caused people to lose their jobs, particularly in tourism and in small businesses.

Some of those disruptions could have been minimized with effective digital solutions and infrastructure. Public administration services could be faster and more efficient in the case of a pandemic if essential meetings and processes were conducted virtually. Similarly, many business operations could be sustained with digital technology, including sales, using e-commerce platforms during lockdowns. To this end, we are working with the key national stakeholders on re-thinking and re-shaping their processes so that their organizations are more resilient to sudden shocks, such as a pandemic.

At the same time, everything we do supports our long-term strategy to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and our upgraded vision and offer of cooperation with Small Island Developing States. We are keeping an eye on the transition to a blue economy, and inclusive and sustainable growth.

The recent measles epidemic in Samoa and now the novel coronavirus COVID-19 have proven that digital transformation can play a pivotal role in the before, during and after recovery phases. This also creates opportunities for policy makers to explore new solutions. The time is right, as the Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tokelau will be connected to a submarine fibre-optic cable later this year.

With this infrastructure in place, we are going to double our effort to engage in innovation, strategic policy, advocacy and partnerships, as well as digital finance; changing the way businesses and buyers behave by introducing e-solutions for agriculture, such as the use of drones, satellite imagery and GIS, and blockchains, as well as digital education and big data.

As we are part of the global UNDP knowledge network, our activities are plugged into the regional efforts in the Pacific, Asia and beyond. The Government of Samoa and leadership in the other small Pacific states have access to the UNDP network, as well as the whole UN system, and use it to their strategic advantage.

We have mapped out the adverse effects on the labour market, particularly the job losses in the tourism. These early assessments found that remittances, which are a significant part of Samoa’s earnings, are forecast to decrease by at least 20 percent, because Samoans overseas are not able to send money home as frequently as before. This is further exacerbated by the fact that many Samoans who have worked in seasonal employment are no longer able to do so.

From digital transformation to retraining, from climate change programming to climate finance, and from social protection to governance UNDP can provide the technical expertise. Our track record shows UNDP is capable of large-scale results in the Pacific. In partnership with 14 governments, the Global Environment Facility, the Forum Fisheries Agency, and others have helped transform the tuna fisheries sector in the region. They are expected, for the first time ever, to have caught more fish last year in their waters than foreign fleets. This increased the GDP by US$500 million, created 10,000 jobs, and has ensured that all the region’s four tuna species are fished sustainably.

UNDP and UNCDF are working in partnership with SkyEye Samoa, an ICT/GIS company, to support Maua App, an e-commerce platform built to respond to some of the economic effects of COVID-19. It allows registered vendors to upload their goods and services for potential buyers to purchase through digital payments in real time. The project will focus on reaching more customers and making the Maua App more accessible for vulnerable groups such as women, people with disabilities, and rural communities.

UNDP bought online meeting platform licenses for all the government ministries in Samoa, and most government ministries in Niue and Tokelau. Digital solutions have been employed to support the Government of Samoa’s business continuity plan, so that the disruptions caused by COVID-19 in daily government operations could be alleviated. We are working to ensure Samoans are safe and prepared for health risks associated with COVID-19, by using technology. The same assistance was also extended to Niue and Tokelau which has led to greater interconnectedness and coordination. We are exploring using drones from Samoa to Niue and Tokelau to deliver urgent medicines.

Samoa’s first UNDP Accelerator Lab will be established later this year and will encourage experimenting with emerging technology to meet strategic priorities of the government.