International Monetary Fund. Asia and Pacific Dept
Tonga’s recovery following the devastation of the 2018 Cyclone Gita has been derailed by a double blow from the pandemic and Cyclone Harold. FY2020 GDP growth is estimated to fall to -2½ percent due to domestic containment measures, a sudden stop in tourism, and investment delays. The full brunt of the pandemic will be felt in FY2021 (beginning July) during peak tourism season, when a deeper contraction is expected. A worse outcome was avoided by early actions to close external borders—which has kept Tonga COVID-19-free—and prompt economic support. Beyond FY2021, the recovery is expected to resume in line with the global recovery, but the magnitude and trajectory is uncertain.
Tonga is one of the world’s most exposed countries to climate change and natural disasters. It suffered the highest loss from natural disasters in the world (as a ratio to GDP) in 2018 and is among the top five over the last decade (Table 1). Climate change will make this worse. Cyclones will become more intense, with more damage from wind and sea surges. Rising sea levels will cause more flooding, coastal erosion and contaminate fresh water. Daily high temperatures will become more extreme, with more severe floods and drought.
A big challenge for the economic development of small island countries is dealing with external shocks. The Pacific Islands are vulnerable to natural disasters, climate change, commodity price changes, and uncertain donor grants. The question that arises is how should small developing countries formulate a fiscal policy to achieve economic stability and fiscal sustainability when prone to various shocks? We study how natural disasters affect long-term debt dynamics and propose fiscal policy rules that could help insulate the economy from such unexpected shocks. We propose fiscal rules to address these shocks and uncertainties using the example of Papua New Guinea. Our study finds the advantages of expenditure rules, especially a recurrent expenditure rule based on non-resource and non-grant revenue, interdependently determined by government debt and budget balance targets with expected disaster shocks. This paper contributes to the literature and policy dialogue by theoretically analyzing the impact of natural disasters on debt sustainability and proposing fiscal rules against natural disasters and climate changes. Our fiscal policy framework is practically applicable for many developing countries facing increasing frequency and impact of natural disasters and climate change. Our rules-based fiscal framework is crucial for sustainable and countercyclical macroeconomic policies to build resilience against devastating natural hazards.