2014 will be a big year for Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Both the United Nations Conference on SIDS taking place in Apia, Samoa, from 1 to 4 September, and the International Year of SIDS, to be launched on 24 February, will draw the world’s attention to these states and promote actions aimed at achieving their sustainable development.
The Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States in Samoa will seek a renewed political commitment to address the special needs and vulnerabilities of SIDS by focusing on practical actions. Building on assessments of previous commitments (such as the Barbados Programme of Action and the Mauritius Strategy for Implementation), the Conference will aim to identify and address new and emerging challenges and opportunities for sustainable development of SIDS, particularly through the strengthening of partnerships between these islands and the international community. Many issues that will be addressed at the Conference are also central to the post-2015 development agenda.
Why focus on SIDS?
“We need to bring more attention to the problems that Small Island Developing States face,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said while addressing SIDS leaders at an event in September last year. “Many of your countries are isolated. Your markets are too small to realize economies of scale. All small island developing states are exposed to high risks from environmental threats, especially climate change,” said the Secretary-General. He added that the world had not paid enough attention to the issues that the people of small island States, often on the frontlines, have had to face alone.
“We need to bring more attention to the problems that Small Island Developing States face”
The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, in June 2012 had also acknowledged that SIDS remained a special case for sustainable development. This is a consequence of their unique and particular vulnerabilities, including their small size, remoteness, narrow resource and export base, and exposure to global environmental challenges and external economic shocks, including potentially more frequent and intense natural disasters. Countries also felt that SIDS have made less progress than most other groupings, or even regressed, in economic terms, especially in terms of poverty reduction and debt sustainability.
The world can learn from SIDS
But, as reflected in the tagline of the Conference – Island voices, global choices – the fortunes of SIDS are not only a concern for these States themselves, but for all States. And the world can learn from SIDS’ experiences. Traditionally dependent on expensive, shipped-in fossil fuels to meet energy needs, and under duress from climate change forces, island countries are pioneering sustainable solutions such as wind farms and ocean preserves. Periodically devastated by typhoons, hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes, their people show the capacity to bounce back, even though each disaster might abruptly take away 100 per cent of the annual GDP. These are just two of the areas in which SIDS can provide valuable experience.
Partnerships at the heart of the Conference Partnerships will be at the heart of the Conference, as highlighted by the Conference theme: ‘Sustainable development of SIDS through genuine and durable partnerships’. SIDS anticipate that the Conference will be a springboard for meaningful collaborations. UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Wu Hongbo, who is also the Secretary-General for the SIDS Conference, expressed his hope that the Conference will serve to strengthen ties between SIDS and traditional and non-traditional partners, including through South-South and SIDS-SIDS partnerships, as well as those including the private sector. “While “partnership” is a very popular word, the concept needs to be fleshed out and made real in order to be meaningful for the SIDS. No one wants the Conference to feature words alone”, he said.
“While “partnership” is a very popular word, the concept needs to be fleshed out and made real in order to be meaningful for the SIDS”
UN DESA’s Under-Secretary-General
Calling on stakeholders to share partnerships
In recent years, small island developing States have identified areas where they can take leadership, work together, and bring other partners on board for concrete actions on sustainable development. In particular five thematic areas for partnerships to benefit SIDS have emerged for special attention: climate change and energy, oceans and seas, waste management, sustainable tourism and natural disaster resilience. Partnerships in the area of health, especially addressing non-communicable diseases, are also being explored.
As the Conference is expected to see the launch of new innovative partnerships to advance the sustainable development of SIDS, a Partnerships Platform has been set up to allow all Stakeholders to announce new partnerships, or ideas for partnerships, and to track implementation. This Partnership Platform on the SIDS website is to encourage everyone to share ideas for the improvement of SIDS communities.
Global preparations start this month
After meetings on the national, regional and inter-regional levels were held in 2013, the global preparations for the Conference begin this month, with the first meeting of the Preparatory Committee (PrepCom) to take place from 24 to 27 February. At the first meeting of the PrepCom, participants will discuss the objectives and substantive theme of the Conference and organizational and procedural matters. An informal intersessional meeting will be held from 21 to 25 April 2014, and the final meeting of the PrepCom will take place from 23 to 27 June 2014, to finalize preparations for the Conference.
In addition to traditional plenary sessions, the Conference itself will feature multi-stakeholder partnership dialogues which will focus on recognizing current successful partnerships and initiatives, launching new partnerships and initiatives involving a wide range of stakeholders, and interactive discussions on key priorities related to SIDS.
International Year of Small Island Developing States 2014 has been declared International Year of Small Island Developing States, the first Year ever dedicated to a group of countries. The Year and the Conference preparations will be mutually reinforcing, raising the profile of the SIDS and calling attention to their challenges but also to their unique cultural heritage and their contributions in the arts, culture, innovation and natural resource management among many other areas. The global launch of the Year will take place on 24 February at UN headquarters in New York and will be webcast worldwide.
Higher maternal and infant mortality rates, poorer access to health services, increased vulnerability to contract HIV/AIDS and to being subjected to sexual violence and discrimination – this is part of the stark reality facing many of the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples. In its continuous efforts to promote the rights and well-being of indigenous peoples worldwide, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is working to change this.
On 15-17 January, the Permanent Forum arranged the first international expert group meeting on the topic of sexual and reproductive health and rights of indigenous peoples, gathering seven experts from all corners of the world. Aimed at analyzing how the UN system, member states as well as indigenous peoples and their organizations can be more responsive within this area, the meeting also represented an opportunity for knowledge-exchange.
“Reproductive health is an important issue. It is about the survival and well-being of our families, our cultures and communities, our peoples”
Assistant Secretary-General in UN DESA
“Reproductive health is an important issue. It is about the survival and well-being of our families, our cultures and communities, our peoples. It is not just about an absence of illness or disease,” said Thomas Gass, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs in UN DESA, as he opened the meeting.
Mr. Gass pointed to the fact that indigenous peoples often face poor access to healthcare and that a majority of them are still not fully included in the economic, political and social life of the country in which they live. “If we are to address this unacceptable gap between our aspirations and the reality on the ground, we must redouble our efforts to ensure closer collaboration between the UN system, Member States and indigenous peoples,” he said.
High rates of sexually transmitted infections
One of the experts at the meeting was Dr. Clive Aspin, a Māori and independent public health consultant with extensive experience from public health research and with a special expertise on the impact of HIV on indigenous populations.
“The major challenge that we all face around the world is the high rates of STIs (sexually transmitted infections) within indigenous communities,” Dr. Aspin said, pointing to the challenges of how HIV and STI disparities are addressed.
”That’s going to be a challenge for health services, […] for governments and […] for indigenous communities,” he said, underscoring the need for sufficient means to solve these issues. “Hopefully, governments will come on board and provide us with the sorts of resources that we need to get on top of the problem,” Dr. Aspin added.
Addressing taboos and other challenges
Dr. Mirna Cunningham Kain, an indigenous Miskita woman from Nicaragua and former member and chair of the Forum also attended the meeting as one of the experts. She described two types of challenges, relating to the organization of sexual health and reproductive programs and to internal challenges. “We have gained a lot in the recognition of the indigenous peoples in Latin America, and in some of our communities […] we have gained autonomy,” she said, describing that the communities themselves are now to decide on how to organize health services. “At the same time, we face internal challenges and national challenges, because in some of our communities sexuality is not addressed, […] it is seen as something that you should not talk about,” Dr. Cunningham Kain added.
“We are very clear that we need to organize an intercultural approach in the organization of the health care system”
Mirna Cunningham Kain
Former Member and Chair of the Permanent Forum
She also talked about the concern over high rates of maternal mortality among indigenous women. “So on one side, we have gained rights, on the other side we are very clear that we need to organize an intercultural approach in the organization of the health care system,” Dr. Cunningham Kain said, pointing to traditional barriers affecting the way in which services are organized.
Youth leading the way
Jessica Danforth, founder and Executive Director of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network, also participated as one of the experts, bringing the youth perspective from North America into the discussion. “We are very excited that this meeting is happening,” she said, describing some of the challenges that indigenous youth face, including racism, poverty and lack of access to support and resources. “We are here to say that we are not just recognizing that those [challenges] are happening, we want to do something about it,” Ms. Danforth said, adding that their hope is that the meeting will ultimately result in social and systemic change.
She also described the important role that indigenous youth play in making change happen. “As indigenous peoples, we are often faced with one-size fits all models for let’s say sex education or reproductive health services. And one size does not fit all,” Ms. Danforth emphasized. “The importance of centering our language, our traditions and things that make sense to us, are so integral to achieving our full wellness and well-being,” she added.
Dr. Aspin, Dr. Cunningham Kain and Ms. Danforth all expressed hopes that this meeting will help in bringing about change, advancing indigenous people’s sexual reproductive health and rights worldwide.
“If we can really include this in the global agenda, then we have an opportunity because that will give us a tool to go back to our country, to go back to our communities and say – see we have this support from the international standards,” Mirna Cunningham Kain said.
With the United Nations development agenda in transition – moving from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) era towards a focus not just on poverty eradication but also on the health of the planet – the newly-elected President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) pledged to continue to strengthen that body’s role as a platform for unified dialogue on sustainable and inclusive development.
“We have a very interesting period ahead of us,” said incoming Council President Martin Sajdik, who is also the Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations, briefing the press on ECOSOC’s priorities for 2014, which include tackling sustainability issues as well as rising challenges such as inequality, unemployment and climate change.
“We intend to put the spotlight on the final year left to achieve the MDGs,” Mr. Sajdik said, adding that ECOSOC will play a key part as the international community transitions from the MDGs to Sustainable Development Goals and a UN development agenda post-2015, he noted.
Partnerships are the only way to pursue sustainable development, he said, announcing that he and General Assembly President John Ash will host a two-day thematic debate and dialogue in April on the role of partnerships and their contributions to the post-2015 development agenda.
Highlighting the importance of including the views of young people in the new agenda, Mr. Sajdik said he plans to work with the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, on mobilizing young people to come to the UN. Among his plans is a two-day Youth Forum to be held in June in New York.
“We intend to put the spotlight on the final year left to achieve the MDGs”
Among other issues, he noted the need to strengthen the Council’s role in development cooperation – making sure that the official development assistance (ODA) flows become catalytic for sustainable development.
ODA stands at around 0.31 per cent of national income of developed countries. The target recommended by the UN is 0.7 per cent, according to ECOSOC figures.
The new President noted that this year will be the first time the newly established High-level Political Forum holds a full session.
The Forum replaced the UN’s Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), which concluded its work on 20 September 2013. The Commission was formed after the 1992 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, better known as the Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to generate action on a range of issues, including energy, oceans and sustainable consumption and production.
The Forum, under the auspices of ECOSOC, is to regularly follow-up and implement sustainable development commitments and objectives, including those related to the means of implementation, within the context of the post-2015 development agenda.
Its beginning will coincide with the 2014 Annual Ministerial Review (AMR), to be held in July in New York, whose theme this year is “Addressing on-going and emerging challenges for meeting the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 and for sustaining development gains in the future.”
The United Kingdom, Qatar, Thailand, Gambia, Georgia, Sudan, Kuwait, Bolivia, Mexico and the Observer State of Palestine will make National Voluntary Presentations during the 2014 AMR session, Mr. Sajdik noted.
Earlier in the day on 14 January, Mr. Sajdik was officially elected and took over the presidency from his predecessor, Ambassador Nestor Osorio of Colombia, whom he credited for lifting the UN body to a “platform for unified dialogue on sustainable and inclusive development.”
Outlining the priority areas on which he also briefed the journalists, Mr. Sajdik stressed that for ECOSOC and the UN overall to make a positive difference in the world, they “must adapt to the rapidly challenging conditions and rise to the level of our Charter mandate.”