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The COVID-19 era, while disruptive and isolating for many Pacific rural communities, is showing how rural development assistance stands to provide more meaningful impact by building upon the strengths in communities. Through integration of traditional knowledge and local production capabilities into adaptive capacity building, development efforts can better sustain long-term economic resilience and strengthen people’s safety nets.

The impacts of COVID-19 have added a new layer to the region’s development challenges. The economic costs of the pandemic, and the collapse of international travel, have strained countries’ support systems. For countries like Fiji and Vanuatu, it has inflicted deep economic hardship on a wide range of sectors, but in particular the tourism sector, where many have been left struggling in the aftermath of livelihood losses.

Among the many distressing accounts, there are also positive reports though. Drawing on recent economic data from Vanuatu, Howes and Surandiran outline how Vanuatu’s economy has performed better than expected through the COVID-19 crisis, despite “real economic pain”. They convey constructive, yet cautious, optimism that there are mechanisms and developments that can provide avenues for Pacific Island economies. We seek to complement their economic focus, with additional perspectives from rural settings in Vanuatu and Fiji that highlight social dimensions of rural island life as assets with which Pacific Islanders can live through COVID-19.

The diverse cultures in the Pacific are rooted in traditions, and inter-generational understanding of environment, that connect peoples’ identity to land and sea. Historically, Pacific Islanders have had to withstand many environmental shocks, from extreme weather events to earthquakes. Illustrative of this, seasonal events like cyclones have been shown to be integral to a cyclic pattern of life in the region.

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