Antigua and Barbuda Leading Efforts to Shake Up Global Aid

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After getting hit with Hurricane Irma in 2017, Antigua and Barbuda is still recovering. It’s one of many countries that will need hundreds of millions of dollars to prepare for stronger storms and other climate impacts.

BLOOMBERG- A group of wealthier Caribbean nations is trying to shake up global finance in a way that would cut dependence on China and boost their access to funding.

Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne is leading a campaign for the United Nations to adopt a metric that measures economic fragility, which would potentially open the door to new funding.

Countries like Antigua and Barbuda are often too small to tap global bond markets but too rich to qualify for much international aid, so they have long turned to China to finance critical infrastructure. Barbados, Jamaica and the Bahamas are among the nations backing the change, which is also being supported by Norway’s former Prime Minster Erna Solberg.

“Many of our countries have been precluded from concessional funding because we’re deemed to be too wealthy,” Mr Browne said. “But when you’re struck by a climate event and you have no income and you have no savings, looking at the per capita income metric in terms of eligibility for funding is vulgar.”

The “Multidimensional Vulnerability Index” backed by Mr Browne already has the support of 39 small island developing states and enough international backing to win approval at the UN General Assembly in September, he said.

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The MVI is designed to measure a country’s structural vulnerability to external shocks such as storms, climate change and financial upheaval. The index’s backers argue it should be used alongside existing benchmarks to determine funding needs.

The proposal comes as the Caribbean’s reliance on high-interest loans, coupled with frequent natural disasters, has saddled it with some of the highest debt levels in the hemisphere. The island of Barbuda was devastated by Hurricane Irma in 2017, which destroyed or damaged more than 90pc of homes.

Antigua and Barbuda’s gross domestic product of about $19,000 (€17,700) per capita makes it wealthier than nearly all of Spanish-speaking Latin America, as well as some East European nations. The islands’ biggest foreign currency earner is tourism. In recent decades, China has stepped into the funding breach, investing more than $13bn in the Caribbean since 2010, building ports, airports, roads and schools.

In the last few months alone, Chinese companies have said they will build a 20,000-seat stadium in Barbados, have given Dominica $10m to support various government initiatives, and offered Antigua grants for social housing.

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