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News | May 15, 2020

Child Safe Volunteering Hub Blog – Impact of COVID-19 on Children, Communities & the Tourism Sector in Fiji and Vanuatu

Child Safe Volunteering Hub Blog

 Impact of COVID-19- Tourism Sector in Fiji and Vanuatu

The Child Safe Volunteering Hub (CSV Hub) welcomes partners and stakeholders to the first blog focusing on the tourism sector. As stated on the CSV Hub website – Tourism is a leading global force for positive change – and in this current time we would like to draw on the collective strength and partnerships that have been fostered through this project to:

  • Continue to collaborate and work together to safeguard children
  • Continue to support existing initiatives and leadership in child safeguarding and hear from you to understand changing needs or priorities
  • Share information and opportunities relevant to child safe tourism during this time and into the future

 This blog examines the impact COVID-19 has had on the tourism industry in Fiji and Vanuatu and highlights the direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic on children, young people and communities. The risk to the safety and wellbeing of children has increased as a result of the impact of COVID-19. School closures make children less visible in our communities and loss of household income places families under stress.

Important resources and services for children and families are provided in the blog as well as crucial support being provided by the Fiji and Vanuatu governments and the private sector.

The Child Safe Volunteering Hub project remains committed to provide support to the Tourism Sector stakeholders in Fiji and Vanuatu. In partnership with the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, (DFAT), the CSV Hub project is executing a Small Grants Scheme. The CSV Hub Small Grants Scheme will support organisational and community capacity building in child safeguarding and child safe tourism and volunteering practices. The Scheme will support the delivery of projects, to enable change in policy, practices and systems to improve the safeguarding of children and young people, raise awareness on child safe tourism and volunteering practices or reduce the risk of children being harmed by strengthening child safeguarding systems and practices in communities and organisations.

The Scheme has two funding rounds per year. Organisations/groups interested in applying for CSV Hub funding can work with CSV Hub Coordinator to prepare an application in time for the ‘Applications close’ deadline.

The CSV Hub will also provide support to the Tourism Sector stakeholders to ensure once borders open, protection of children remain a priority. Key messages and information will be disseminated to stakeholders via CSV Hub website; https://childsafevolunteering.com/

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 The impact of the current COVID-19 pandemic on the tourism sector in Fiji and Vanuatu which is the main income for both countries can be severe.

The World Bank in its latest report, titled, East Asia and Pacific in the Time of COVID-19, says Fiji’s short-term outlook is uncertain.

It says all is dependent on the length of coronavirus crisis, the severity of the disruption to the global economy, and the impact on tourism, which is the mainstay of the Fijian economy.

Asian Development Bank, Asian Development Outlook 2020 (April 3 2020) stated, Vanuatu’s economic growth is forecast to contract from 2.8% in 2019 to -1.0% in 2020 as travel restrictions arising from COVID-19 undermine tourism. Growth should recover and reach 2.5% in 2021. The report notes that with more workers accessing labor mobility schemes, policies must ensure that the benefits are both broadly enjoyed and sustainable.

Close to 40,000 people working in the hotel and tourism sector in Fiji continue to remain seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thousands of workers have been sent on Leave without Pay while a small number of people are on reduced hours and on rotational work.

CEO of Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association, Lockington says the assessment of the industry is that more than 150,000 people are directly or indirectly affected by the drastic drop in visitor arrivals as a result of the global pandemic. This includes all the businesses connected with the provision of goods and services when we have tourists in the country.

Due to the effects of Coronavirus, there is massive unemployment in the Tourism Sector, as Fiji and Vanuatu and the other countries closed their borders.  Parents have been forced to stay at home with less or no income as businesses in the sector closed.  Lockington says they have been receiving many reports that many of these affected workers are now planting vegetables and root crops to survive.

While this provides some relief, there are growing concerns regarding how people will continue to afford to pay rent, put food on the table for their families and pay for their utility bills due widespread job and loss of income and economic insecurity amongst parents and families, additional responsibilities on parents including stress.

The impact of coronavirus has also led to increased risks to children in Fiji and Vanuatu. Most of the children attending school are now at home due to safety measures put in place by the government. Never before, schools were closed for such long period of time. Some parents are also working from home in both the countries.

Children and parents both confined to a specific space in their homes for weeks with so much uncertainties, children having so many thoughts and not sure how to react and behave. In the midst of the uncertainties, access to internet became the option for many children, either for studies online or just to keep themselves busy. This also increases risks to children. Children become more vulnerable because of social isolation, less supervision and more time online in the digital space as perpetrators can take advantage of the situation.  Perpetrators can have access to children’s profiles and personal information which can lead to exploitation of children.

As Fiji fights the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Child Helpline 1325 continue to operate as normal, providing confidential support and information by telephone to needy children.

The Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation together with Medical Services Pacific (MSP) ensure safety of children remains a priority during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a joint statement, Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation Mereseini Vuniwaqa said children were the most vulnerable during such crisis and their rights, lives and well-being were at risk.

“We wish to inform that throughout this period that Fiji fights COVID-19, the National Child Helpline 1325 will continue to operate as normal, providing confidential support and information by telephone,” she said.

“A child helpline counsellor will be available to talk to you and your child 24 hours a day and seven days a week,” the Minister said.

Whilst in Fiji, women who are victims of domestic violence are now locked in at home 24/7 with their perpetrators who have lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there have been a lot of cases of coercive control by violent partners.

This was highlighted by the Coordinator of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre Shamima Ali who says that 91 percent of the calls they are receiving now are reports of COVID-19 related violence.

In April alone, 498 out of the 669 calls were domestic violence related. She says they are getting calls from the victims and even their neighbours. These are then referred to police.

Ali says they still believe more cases of domestic violence, rape and child abuse remain under-reported and they continue to work with stakeholders on this issue. She says she would like to remind the women who are going through this issue that they are not alone. Fijians are urged to use the toll free helplines that have been set up which are operational seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

The Domestic Violence Helpline is 1560.

The Child Help Line is 1325.

As COVID-19 restrictions are lifted in Fiji and Vanuatu, children can become more vulnerable as they may be engaged to work in order to supplement family income both in Fiji and Vanuatu. Currently, some children in Fiji and Vanuatu are assisting parents on their farms in order to support the family livelihood. Fiji, for instance, once tourism starts again, some parents may also engage their children to work in the hotels or sell food by the road side in order to get more income for daily survival.

On 26 April, Fiji government introduced a COVID-19 Budget Response to offer relief to Fijian families, bolster businesses, protect workers, and fund life-saving containment efforts.

The Reserve Bank of Fiji confirms that the financial lifeline loan package remains in place to assist severely impacted small and medium-sized businesses in Fiji.

Fijian Competition and Consumer Commission (FCCC) CEO, Joel Abraham says Veilomani Food Bank initiative is introduced to address food poverty in Fiji.  Grocery packs contain food items such as rice, flour, cooking oil, potatoes, onions, dhal, salt and sugar and other items such as kerosene and bathing soap.

A total of $13.95 million has been paid out so far by the Fiji National Provident Fund and the government through the COVID-19 withdrawal assistance to support families finding financial difficulties during the crises. FNPF Chief Executive Officer, Jaoji Koroi says $2.05 million has been paid by the government and $11.90 million has been paid by the Fund. Koroi says about 18,400 FNPF members have been assisted through the COVID-19 withdrawal scheme.

The other targeted spending includes a $20.6 million unemployment benefit for the tourism sector, the lockdown areas, and possibly elsewhere. There is also a $5 million allocation for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

PORT VILA, April 27, 2020 — The World Bank has delivered US$10 million (VUV1.2b) in emergency funding to Vanuatu to support the country’s response to the combined impacts of the global COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic and Tropical Cyclone Harold.

The emergency funding will support the government’s ongoing work to protect Vanuatu from the global COVID-19 pandemic and boost its capacity to respond to the immediate economic impacts, at a time when government is also facing significant response needs associated with Category Five Tropical Cyclone Harold.

A staggering 70% of tourism jobs were lost in the past six weeks. As the backbone of Vanuatu’s economy, tourism has traditionally provided approximately 40% of national GDP. So, Vanuatu has no international tourists and severely reduced revenue from the industry.

From a business perspective, how long could the resort and our 80+ staff survive with an anticipated 3-9 months of no income? Staff reductions, halts on expenditure: all aspects of the business were scrutinised to survive and continue to support the livelihoods of our staff and their families.

Government revenue is rapidly decreasing due to the impact on the tourism sector. The stimulus package draws down significantly on government reserves until June. The national superannuation fund, the Vanuatu National Provident Fund, recently closed its COVID-19 interest-free loan scheme after paying out a staggering VUV1.5 billion (AU$15 million) to its members to support the government’s efforts to stimulate the local economy. However as individual drawdowns are not able to exceed VUV100,000 (AU$1,300), the ‘mini boom’ in the local economy will be short-lived.

Vanuatu’s newly elected government is leading planning for a longer-term economic recovery stage. Economic diversification is the obvious step to reduce reliance on a single sector like tourism. However, there are gains still to be made from facilitating a tourism sector recovery to offer domestic employment and much needed revenue for the government. This recovery can then provide a springboard from which diversification can then proceed.

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