Cook Islands

New Zealand Aid Programme allocated funding

New Zealand Aid Programme transparency


  • ‘Big ocean, small islands’ describes the widely dispersed 15 islands which have a total land area of 240 sq km and an EEZ of almost two million sq km.
  • Approximately 70% of the resident population of 14,974 live on the largest island of Rarotonga.
  • The Cook Islands is self-governing in free association with New Zealand, meaning it administers its own affairs but its nationals are New Zealand citizens and have open access to work and residency in New Zealand.
  • The Cook Islands economy relies heavily on tourism.  Its primary exports are fish, noni and black pearls.  GDP per capita was estimated at NZD$28,000 at 30 June 2012.  
  • Official Development Assistance represented an estimated 34% of GDP in 2014/15.

Development challenges

  • The Cook Islands is vulnerable to external economic shocks, natural disasters (particularly cyclones) and the long term effects of climate change.
  • Demographic change and depopulation from the outer islands (to Rarotonga and overseas) presents a major challenge to economic development as it impacts on capability, capacity and the viability of core service provision to the outer islands (including health, education, energy and transport).
  • Population growth and intensive tourism on Rarotonga and Aitutaki are increasing the demand for improved social services and infrasturcture.
  • The NZ Aid development programme for the Cook Islands is currently focused on:
    • upgrading Rarotonga's water supply to improve its quality, reliability and drought resilience,
    • helping the Cook Islands to meet its climate change targets,
    • improving sanitation and waste management facilities to reduce environmental pollution and public health risk and
    • supporting the cook Islands to meet its health, education and tourism targets.

New Zealand Aid Programme activities

New Zealand contributed a total of $32 million of official development assistance in the Cook Islands during 2013/14. New Zealand’s total aid to the Cook Islands in 2014/15 is expected to be $38 million, of which $6 million is for Pacific regional activities and partnerships which benefit the Cook Islands.
New Zealand manages Australia’s annual contribution (AU$2.2 million) to the Cook Islands through a delegated cooperation arrangement. 

New Zealand signed a Joint Commitment for Development(PDF 1MB) with the Cook Islands Government in 2012 which focused the harmonised bilateral programme on the following themes:

  • Economic Growth
  • Human Development
  • Governance
  • New Zealand Partnerships

New Zealand’s major bilateral programme activities are:

  • Water supply $15m / 3 yrs
  • Waste and sanitation $13m / 6 yrs
  • Tourism sector budget support $12.5m / 5 yrs
  • Education budget support $9.5m / 3 yrs
  • Specialist health services $2m / 4 years

Results achieved

Recent results achieved with the support of the harmonised bilateral aid programme include:

  • A 1.9MW solar array at Rarotonga airport, which provides 6% of Rarotonga's electricity demand.
  • Photovoltaic mini-grid systems (solar with diesel back-up) to meet all electricity demand for the Northern Group islands of Manihiki, Nassau, Palmerston, Penrhyn, Pukapuka and Rakahanga.
  • Education outcomes improved from 2008 to 2012 (NCEA Level 2 pass rates increased from 51% to 76%, Level 3 pass rates increased 36% to 71%, and University Entrance from 15% to 45%).
  • Strong economic growth linked to a 7.2% increase in visitor arrivals in 2011/12 and a 4% increase in 2012/13.  Annual surveys show visitor satisfaction remains steady at 94%. 
  • Upgrade of 240 household sanitation systems in the Muri-Avana area.
  • Visiting health specialist visits treated 4,373 people and enabled up-skilling for 92 local medical practitioners.
  • An alternate jetty at Arorangi.  
  • Harbour reconstruction for the islands of Mauke and Mitiaro.