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More than two-thirds of Samoans hit by downturn: U.N. research

More than two-thirds of Samoans report having lost income and having trouble repaying debts as a result of the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, new United Nations [U.N.] research has found. 

The results of a survey on the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic were released on Thursday and the results showed the effects of the economic downturn to be far reaching. 

The data showed that not only had 68 per cent of Samoans lost income due to the crisis, but a significant number were even being forced to eat less and were struggling to repay debts. 

A total of 286 Samoans were polled online for the research. 

Researchers found almost half of households have at least one unemployed member and 71 percent of people are having trouble repaying debts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions.  

According to the statement, the COVID-19 has hit the pockets and wallets of Samoans, reducing revenue, increasing debt and for some households – affecting food security. 

The online survey took place between 11 June and 5 July 2020. 

A total of 57 per cent of respondents were women; 68 per cent were aged between 25 and 44; 47 per cent were the heads of a household and 76 per cent were the main family income earner.   

“Close to half of respondents say that the decline of domestic and international travel has led to a reduction in earnings. Twenty-three per cent said their employer has had to close a business, and 15 per cent have had their job terminated,” analysis accompanying the study found. 

“The other most common reasons cited for a fall in income included the interruption of social activities and the unavailability of stock for market vendors and shops. 

“Some respondents said they quit their jobs because their employer changed employment conditions due to the crisis.” 

The survey also indicated that Samoans were not optimistic about the future. A total of 75 per cent of respondents said that if the state of emergency [S.O.E.] continues for another two months, they expect a continued decline in their personal and household income.  

“Only 19.6 per cent of respondents said that those in their household who lost income have been able to find a new source of revenue,”  the report said. 

Simona Marinescu, the U.N. Resident Coordinator for the Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tokelau said: “Samoa acted quickly and decisively to implement a state of emergency that has prevented the spread of COVID-19 and saved many lives. 

”However, Samoa, like any other country, has been affected in multiple ways by the COVID-19 pandemic whose socio-economic cost continues to grow. 

“Although we have avoided a health crisis, all indicators suggest that a protracted economic crisis is on the horizon. Poverty may rise and the hard work done in recent years to advance many of the sustainable development goals could be reversed, unless we take action now to protect the most vulnerable.” 

The study found nearly one-third of respondents said that they are receiving some kind of support from the Government during the S.O.E.

The official response to the crisis has included two stimulus packages, which Marinescu said appears to have been timely and working well. 

“The initial response of the U.N. system in Samoa was to help the government to deal with the immediate health emergency, such as by boosting testing capacity through the procurement of necessary equipment - and by supporting the health sector,” she said. 

“Now we must look at the longer-term socio-economic impact. The first step in this process is to use tools such as this survey to quickly gather evidence and understand how the crisis is affecting ordinary people. 

“The next step will be to design programmes that complement and expand the government’s own continued efforts to stimulate the economy and prevent a rise in poverty and hardship.”   

A total of 71 per cent of Samoans expressed concern that the loss of income has had an effect on their ability to repay debts. Personal loans, mortgages, store credit, motor vehicle loans and education loans were the most commonly cited reasons cited for owing money. 

This debt spiral could exacerbate poverty further, the report authors warned. 

Worryingly, the impact of COVID-19 on supply chains and household incomes already appears to have affected nutrition for some Samoans. 

A total of 17 per cent of respondents said that they are buying significantly less food. 

The nutritional value of food may also have declined due to the crisis. 

Around 10.5 per cent of respondents say the quality of their household diet has declined significantly, while 36 per cent say it has “somewhat” declined.        

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