The COVID-19 pandemic in the Caribbean: exposing existing economic vulnerabilities

Deodat Maharaj, April 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic is once more providing eloquent testimony on the vulnerability of the Caribbean to shocks, affecting every single economy in the region and trading partners. It is exposing acute economic vulnerabilities in Caribbean economies and requires both a coordinated response to deal with immediate effects and a need to tackle systemic issues related to the international trade and finance architecture.

The Caribbean region is among the most vulnerable on the planet to shocks, including those associated with natural disasters and climate change. This is because of its high concentration on a limited number of export sectors to drive growth. The region is arguably the most tourism-dependent of the globe and will see massive losses in this sector, affecting millions of lives and livelihoods. This comes after a stellar performance last year, with 31.5 million stay-over arrivals (half of them from the US). The drastic reduction in tourism will have a major adverse impact, not just on big business but also on taxi drivers, small shop owners, artistes, small-scale suppliers to hotels and the hundreds of thousands who work in hotels across the Caribbean. There is a risk of a greater number of Caribbean people falling into poverty.

Impacts of hurricane Maria in Dominica. Tanya Holden/DFID. Licence: (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)