press conference on international meeting to review
implementation of barbados programme of action
The international community had a moral responsibility to protect and help its most vulnerable members, including small island developing States, Julian Hunte (Saint Lucia), President of the fifty-eighth session of the General Assembly, said at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.
Briefing correspondents on the upcoming International Meeting to Review the Implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, he said that the August Meeting, to be held in Mauritius, would address the many problems that were unique to such countries. They included rising sea levels, dependence on preferential trade agreements, and climate change, which, although not caused by small island developing States, hurt them dramatically.
His remarks were followed by a panel discussion featuring Nandcoomar Bodha, Minister of Agriculture of Mauritius; Mabuti Mwemwenikarawa, Minister of Finance and Economic Development of Kiribati; John Briceño, Vice-Prime Minister of Belize; and Jagdish Koonjul, Permanent Representative of Mauritius to the United Nations and Chairman of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).
Speaking first, Mr. Briceño said the 1994 Barbados Programme of Action offered a blueprint for sustainable development that factored in social, economic, and environmental concerns. Specific problems faced by the small island developing States included the recent increase in the frequency and intensity of hurricanes, as well as rising rates of HIV/AIDS infection, and the high financial costs associated with combating international terrorism, which threatened his country’s citizens and its many tourist visitors.
Turning to trade issues, he expressed concern over the traditional dependence of small island developing States on one or two crops. For example, the manner in which Belize and Saint Lucia relied on sugar and bananas, respectively, made them extremely vulnerable economically.
Mr. Mwemwenikarawa highlighted the case of the Pacific islands, which were mainly concerned about climate change. Such weather transformations not only led to agricultural difficulties and food insecurity, but also to rising sea levels and ultimate inundation.
Mr. Bodha said he expected the conference to address the issue of how to make small island economies viable, while accounting for their diversity. Despite their vulnerabilities, small island States had potential, he added.
Asked how implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action was progressing, Mr. Koonjul said that small island States had not received all the resources that had been promised by the international community. They had limited capacity to act on their own and lacked access to modern technology, including waste disposal techniques that were needed, in part, because of tourists. Also, globalization and trade liberalization were not benefiting them, and they were pressure to eliminate tariffs, which brought in crucial revenue. Finally, small island developing States were not doing their part to produce national strategies to promote development.
Responding to a question about the allocation of resources, Mr. Briceño said that, although economic assistance had decreased, more than 42 per cent of Belize was still designated a protected area. Additionally, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) had maximized the few resources available to establish its Climate Change Centre in Belize, which was something to be proud of.
Asked how countries like Kiribati could benefit from the Kyoto Protocol, Mr. Mwemwenikarawa said he would have to keep exerting pressure on the international community to accede to international instruments. In the case of the Kyoto Protocol, it was regrettable that the United States and the Russian Federation had not done their part to help small island States by ratifying the agreement.
In response to a question about how the experiences of small island States could caution other countries about their own potential environmental problems, Mr. Bodha said that everyone should realize that it was in their interest to preserve and protect the environment. In Mauritius, which benefited from tourism, building hotels could create environmental and socio-economic crises. That was why his Government had instituted social funds for people residing in areas where new hotels were being constructed. It was also important to maintain the pristine quality of the lagoons, which drew tourists in the first place. It would be foolish to start something that one could not sustain and control, he concluded.
Mr. Briceño added that whatever a country did to the environment, it did to itself. For example, the United States’ climate-changing emissions would affect small island States in the short term, but, in the future, American farmers would be affected by shifting seasons.
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