George Business Chamber expresses concern over post-COVID-19 regional economy

 14 August 2020

“Climate change is a difficult and complex issue to comprehend and plan for, but COVID-19 is showing us what can happen to an economy in the blink of an eye through ways we have almost no control over.

 Outgoing Chairperson of the George Chamber of Commerce, Dr Dennis Farrell

As part of an ongoing series of interviews and debates regarding the nett-effect similarities between the COVID-19 pandemic and the projected impact of climate change with key Southern Cape stakeholders, Cobus Meiring of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) approached outgoing Chairperson of the George Chamber of Commerce, Dr Dennis Farrell, for his insights on the future prospects and challenges facing George and the Garden Route.

“We know that for all the natural beauty and seasonal charm of the Garden Route, the Southern Cape is comparatively resource-poor and the advent of COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of the regional economy. The Southern Cape economy and job security is severely hampered by the advent of COVID-19 and the restrictions and regulations in trade imposed through the national lockdown, ” says Meiring.

He asked Dr Farrell about the effect of COVID-19 on the sustainability of business and employment in George and the surrounding areas, and if a changing climate may have similar impacts on the region in future?”.

A total of 38% of local businesses of varying sizes and sectors have been forced to close their doors

Says Farrell, “According to the survey conducted, a total of 38% of local businesses of varying sizes and sectors have been forced to close their doors as a direct result of COVID-19 and the national lockdown, with several more on the verge of certain collapse or teetering towards it. With no end in sight in terms of business constraints and no short or medium-term relief in sight, damage to both the formal and informal business sectors is cutting deep and even permanent, and many sectors may never fully recover.”

We foresee a real unemployment figure which may rise well above 50% in the coming months

Continues Farrell, “Drawing comparisons to what climate change may bring, based on COVID-19 implications on the regional economy, you only need to consider the current example of an exponentially fast-growing and demand-driven population that is extremely vulnerable to any negative impact on the economy. Low-income groups with no or very basic skills levels made it tough for communities to enter the Southern Cape job market even before the advent of COVID-19, and we foresee a real unemployment figure which may rise well above 50% in the coming months.”

“The local and regional tourism industry is a prime example of how badly affected the regional economy is right now, and how a change in climate may well play out in a similar way.”

“Right now the regulations enforced through the national lockdown force the majority of businesses in the hospitality sector to either remain closed, or alternatively, operate at very low or unsustainable levels, and it is a sad fact that too many had no choice but to close their doors permanently, with literally thousands of precious jobs and downstream value chains destroyed.”

Considering the similarities between the COVID-19 pandemic and the projected impact of climate change, Meiring points out that climate change is predicted to bring more drought, water insecurity, food insecurity, more natural disasters such as fires, severe storms and rising sea levels.

“Regionally speaking, we are ill-prepared for those factors, and the bearing they may have on the economic and social sustainability of the Garden Route.”

Within this frame of reference, Meiring posed the question to Dr Farrell: “In your view, and given the example of the severe economic impact of COVID-19, are we anywhere near even understanding what climate change will demand from the region and the pressure it will place on those dependent on the environment, including government, communities and the business sector?”

Says Farrell, “We believe at the centre of a call for an economic reset framework for a thriving post-COVID-19, and the urgent need to take the impact of climate change into consideration, the Southern Cape must develop the ability to meet basic human needs and work towards an economy based on foundational economics – an economy that leads to social and ecological wellbeing as part of a just transition from the present economic model.”

“We must restore the dignity of people and their rights to basic needs. Focused economic activities must address the provision of jobs, food security, secure ownership of homes and land, community upliftment and environmental renewal. The fundamental enablers must include ethical leadership, restoration of a work ethic/culture, education, and inclusive collaborative economic principles.”

Says Farrell in conclusion: “Climate change is a difficult and complex issue to comprehend and plan for, but COVID-19 is showing us what can happen to an economy in the blink of an eye through ways we have almost no control over.”

“We cannot afford not to focus on climate change and adapt in time, for failing to plan is planning to fail, and our economy is, at this point in time, extremely vulnerable, exposed and in need of repair and a reset.”

Cover Photo: Garden Route Tourism

The tourism and hospitality industry is key to the Southern Cape economy. It has come to an abrupt halt and demise as a direct result of the national lockdown and COVID-19 regulations. (Photo credit: Cobus Meiring)

The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) is a public platform for environmental management entities in the Southern Cape, and a regional think tank on climate change mitigation and adaptation.

 

 

Written by Marti Kirstein