Mitiaro - eastern outer island, Cook Islands school library.
- There are 15 islands and atolls (240 sq km) spread over almost two million sq km of ocean.
- Half of the total population of 22,000 live on the island of Rarotonga.
- The Cook Islands is a self-governing country 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.
- GDP per capita (NZD$14,623 in 2009) is comparatively high in the tourist-based economies of Rarotonga and Aitutaki relative to other islands.
- Tourism currently provides approximately 65% of Cook Islands GDP. Official Development assistance comprises an estimated 14% of GDP in 2010/11.
- Primary exports are fish and pearls.
- Economic development in the Cook Islands is reliant on tourism. The country has limited natural resources and is vulnerable to external shocks, natural disasters (particularly cyclones) and the long term effects of climate change.
- Depopulation from the outer islands to Rarotonga, and from the Cook Islands to overseas, is a major issue. An estimated 78,000 Cook Islanders now live in New Zealand, Australia and the United States.
- Minimising the environmental impact of tourism growth and urban drift through improved sanitation and waste management is a priority.
- Challenges also include maintaining infrastructure and service quality in health, education, energy and transport.
New Zealand Aid Programme activities
New Zealand contributed $19 million in bilateral assistance for development in the Cook Islands during 2010/11. In addition, New Zealand administers Australia’s annual contribution (AU$1.5 million) to the Cook Islands through a delegated cooperation arrangement. New Zealand and Australia's assistance to the Cook Islands for 2009/10 to 2011/12 will total approximately $50 million.
New Zealand signed a Joint Commitment for Development(PDF 149KB) with the Cook Islands Government and human development. The priority sectors are:
- waste sanitation
- revitilising the pearl industry
- renewable energy
- public financial management and service delivery
- New Zealand partnerships
New initiatives that commenced recently under the Joint Commitment include:
- upgrades to sanitation systems and waste management facilities on Rarotonga and Aitutaki
- a package of assistance to help revitalise the Cook islands' pearl industry
- support for increasing electricity generation from renewable energy
- tourism sector support aimed at airline route and destination development.
New Zealand and Australia also continue to support infrastructure projects on the sister islands. Significant activities underway include:
- upgrading Mitiaro and Mauke harbours to improve safety and efficiency
- improving water supplies in the Northern island group.
The Joint Commitment provides technical assistance and training are provided to improve public sector financial management and service delivery.
We also continue to support governance in the Cook Islands through assistance to strengthen community safety via the Cook Islands Police programme, and by funding the Community Initiatives Scheme.
Human development - education and health
The overaching goal for the education sector is equal access to quality learning opportunities.
Current priorities include:
- student literacy and numeracy
- vocational training in trades and hospitality
- refurbishment of schools to ensure facilities meet a minimum standard
- professional development for teachers and principals
Under the Health Specialists Visit programme, health practitioners from New Zealand, visit the Cook Islands to provide specialised health services not already accessible in-country. The practitioners also provide remote support and mentoring through sophisticated telecommunications.
Disaster recovery and resiliance
In February 2010, a powerful cyclone destroyed and damaged both homes and infrastructure on Aitutaki. New Zealand provided technical expertise and financing to rehabilitate 163 homes, schools, the hospital and other government buildings to high disaster resistance standards and support for disaster preparedness and shelters.