Seychelles navigates “new priorities in a new reality” to take on COVID-19

By Student Delegate Jessica Griswold

In the Indian Ocean, roughly 1,000 miles east of the African Coast, lies an archipelago paradise called Seychelles. Comprised of 115 islands, the Republic of Seychelles is home to some of the world’s most beautiful white sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters. That said, it is no surprise that this mighty island nation was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to attain very high human development status. Seychelles is known globally as a powerful ocean conservation leader and innovative sustainable development finance trailblazer.

Like other Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Seychelles relies heavily on fishing, agriculture, and especially tourism to maintain its economy. Tourism increases domestic revenue by adding to the consumer population, creates jobs, supports infrastructure development, and indirectly builds up ancillary industries, such as agriculture. Additionally, transportation to and from the country’s seaports is essential to the country’s agricultural export economy and importing necessities, including machinery and equipment, food, petroleum products, chemicals, and other manufactured goods.

On March 14, 2020, Seychelles reported its first two confirmed COVID-19 cases. In response, the country restricted travel to protect its people, industries, and livelihood. Less than one month later, the government banned travel, subsequently implementing a national curfew and limiting commercial activity to essential services. In just six short weeks, cargo and repatriation flights were Seychelles’ only connection to the rest of the world—including its African neighbors. Thus, the nation’s positive path toward achieving its sustainable development and climate adaptation goals came to a halt.

As Seychelles takes on “new priorities and a new reality,” climate change risks remain the same. The dangers of climate change require investments, additional resources and technology, and adaptable business strategies for tourism-based economies. As sea levels rise and sporadic storms brew, the sustainable development of critical infrastructure, such as airports and seaports that make up a sustainable transportation system, is vital to support small island tourism and trade. Taking the global pandemic’s economic and social effects into account, support for sustainable development and adaptation is non-negotiable now more than ever.

Under the Paris Agreement, setting and attaining a sustainable finance goal is an ongoing issue. On the bright side, the treaty acknowledges the different responsibilities, capacities, and vulnerabilities between wealthy developed country Parties and developing country Parties, including Small Island Developing Nations. Consequently, the treaty imposes mitigation and donation obligations on developed countries to support developing countries’ adaptation efforts. All the same, the Paris Agreement’s flexible, bottom-up approach only ensures that Parties make nationally determined contributions—it does not require Parties to contribute a particular amount. While the agreement’s flexibility has facilitated nearly universal participation, the conflicting interests of the Parties have served as a setback in the climate finance space.

Nevertheless, Seychelles found a solution to this problem in blended finance. The term blended finance refers to financing forms that leverage development funds to create a more investment-friendly environment for private sector capital to invest. By building partnerships between government, industry, science, and civil society, the blended finance approach reduces the high risk of relying on one income stream. Simply put, blended finance can effectively mobilize the resources small islands need for sustainable development.

The safe tourism certificate provides the seal of approval for service providers for operation (Photo source: STB News Bureau)

The safe tourism certificate provides the seal of approval for service providers for operation (Photo source: STB News Bureau)

Without a doubt, Seychelles resiliently capitalized on its remote geographic location and niche economy before the pandemic. In the wake of COVID-19, the island nation continues to fight its way through even more significant challenges. As Seychelles prepared to relaunch its tourism industry, the tourism department and health officials developed a “safe tourism certificate” program for businesses. Before opening their doors to foreign visitors, tourism businesses must satisfy COVID-19 safety criteria to receive a certificate showing that tourists are welcome to visit.

In June and July, low-risk countries from Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the South Pacific were among the first that Seychelles welcomed as visitors. By September, over 75 percent of the rooms in Seychelles’ 418 hotels, guest houses, and self-catering establishments received safe tourism certificates and could open for business. In October, over forty countries made the updated list of those allowed to visit the islands safely. While the tourism industry is not what it was before the pandemic, Seychelles is setting an example of successfully adjusting to a new normal.

Works Cited

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