Cook Islands

New Zealand Aid Programme allocated funding

New Zealand Aid Programme transparency


  • ‘Big ocean, small islands’ describes the widely dispersed 15 islands with 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 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.
  • The Cook Islands economy relies heavily on tourism.  Its primary exports are fish, noni and black pearls.  GDP per capita was estimated at NZD$17,252 in 2010/11.
  • Official Development Assistance comprises an estimated 33% of GDP in 2013/14.

Development challenges

  • The Cook Islands is vulnerable to external economic 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.  It increases the challenge of providing core services to outer islands (including health, education, energy and transport).
  • Population growth and intensive tourism on Rarotonga and Aitutaki are increasing the demand for upgrades of core infrastructure there.
  • The NZ Aid development programme for the Cook Islands is currently focused on:
    • upgrading the water supply system on Rarotonga to improve water quality, reliability and drought resilience,
    • replacing diesel generators with renewable generation options such as photovoltaic arrays to reduce dependency on imported fuel as well as helping the Cook Islands to meet its climate change targets, and
    • improving sanitation and waste management facilities to reduce environmental pollution and public health risk.
  • The Cook Islands Government’s plan to invest $60 million in infrastructure in 2013/14, with the support of its development partners, has focused attention on limited local infrastructure planning and project management capacity. 
  • Building and maintaining local capacity is an on-going challenge because Cook Islanders can often find better paying work and career opportunities overseas.

New Zealand Aid Programme activities

New Zealand contributed a total of $18 million of official development assistance in the Cook Islands during 2012/13. New Zealand’s total aid to the Cook Islands in 2013/14 is expected to be $29 million, of which $8 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 $12.5m / 5 yrs
  • Renewable energy $10.5m / 4 yrs
  • Education budget support $9.5m / 3 yrs

Results achieved

Results achieved with the support of New Zealand and AusAID bilateral aid include:

  • 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%. 
  • 240 household sanitation systems were upgraded 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 was built at Arorangi, increasing the ability of cruise ships to disembark passengers, making Rarotonga a more attractive destination for cruise ships.
  • Harbour reconstruction for the islands of Mauke and Mitiaro was completed in 2013, following cyclone damage in 2005.