Overview of Australia's aid program to the Cook Islands

How we are helping

2014/15 Bilateral Outcome
$1.9 million

2015/16 Bilateral Budget Estimate
$1.9 million

2015/16 Total Australian ODA Estimate
$4.0 million

DFAT will manage an estimated $1.9 million in bilateral funding to the Cook Islands in 2015–16. Total Australian Official Development Assistance to the Cook Islands in 2015–16 will be an estimated $4.0 million.

Australia provides aid to the Cook Islands through a delegated arrangement with New Zealand. Australian support to Cook Islands is aligned with the development priorities identified in the Joint Commitment for Development between New Zealand and Cook Islands. Australia will continue to support increasing access to clean water and sanitation facilities on the main island of Rarotonga by improving sewage systems and the quality of lagoon water. Australian aid is also focusing on support for education, gender and disability-inclusive development.

Cook Islands’ development is challenged by its narrow economic base, limited natural resources, fragile environment, shortage of skilled labour and relatively remote location. The economy, underpinned by tourism and marine resources, remains vulnerable to natural disasters, as demonstrated by Cyclone Pat which caused significant damage to key infrastructure in 2010, and a severe drought in 2011. The Cook Islands has relatively high income levels per person, reflecting the impact of expatriate residents and the tourist-based economy of Rarotonga. However this masks the subsistence lifestyle of people living on the outer islands, who have limited access to basic services such as health, education, transport and potable water.

Australia’s assistance to the Cook Islands focuses on increasing access to clean water, support for education and gender and disability-inclusive development.

Objective 1: Water and sanitation

Australia is focusing on improving economic infrastructure and water management by upgrading residential and commercial septic systems to protect water quality. More than 200 systems have been upgraded in the Muri Lagoon area, which is important to the tourism industry.

Objective 2: Education

We are investing in improvements to the quality of education, literacy and numeracy to develop an educated workforce ready to contribute to, and benefit from, economic growth.

Objective 3: Gender

We are funding an initiative to help the Cook Islands Government reduce violence against women and promote women’s economic empowerment.

Objective 4: Disability-inclusive development

Australia is committed to disability-inclusive development in the Cook Islands and assists with funding for a development officer to promote the rights of people with disabilities. We also assist by providing enhanced access to vital services.

Our results

Economic development

  • Refurbished outer island power station, leading to more reliable and affordable energy supply.
  • Cyclone recovery and reconstruction efforts on the island of Aitutaki; improving rainwater capture capability and climate-proofing infrastructure in outer islands likely to be affected by climate change.
  • Mauke and Mitiaro harbours upgraded to boost economic activity by improving the safety and efficiency of loading and offloading of inter-island shipping cargo. It is anticipated that the harbour upgrades may also increase tourist numbers.

Water and sanitation

  • Over 200 residential on-site sewage treatment systems installed.
  • Rainwater harvesting systems installed in households in the northern islands, providing over 1 million litres of drinking water storage.
  • Audit of commercial sanitation systems in the pilot area and installation of three new commercial systems.
  • Support to the Cook Islands Government to draft a national sanitation policy, and strengthening and enforcing improved sanitation procedures and practices.
  • Implementation of a communications and public education program for improved sanitation.


  • The amalgamation of three trade schools to form the new Tertiary Training Institute and retention of the London City and Guilds’ accreditation.
  • Year 12 school retention rates have improved, from 59 per cent of students in 2011 to 65 per cent in 2012–13.
  • Completion of an electronic student information system.
  • Schools received computers and technical support to implement online learning.
  • A designated gender officer was recruited under Australia’s funding for gender equality to support the development of domestic violence prevention and women’s economic empowerment programs.

Disability-inclusive development

  • Funding for a disability-inclusive development officer to help build systems to support sustainable implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability.
  • In 2015, Australia will provide a specially equipped school minibus for children with a disability, which can also be used to transport older people with mobility issues. The minibus will come with initial funding for a driver, fuel, modifications and maintenance for one year.

A group of people standing on a beach
A water monitoring activity taking place at Muri lagoon, Cook Islands (credit: Water and Sanitation (WATSAN) Unit, Government of the Cook Islands).
A machine digging a hole
Building new sanitation facilities in Muri, Cook Islands (credit: DFAT).