Statement by
Mr. Anwarul K. Chowdhury

Under-Secretary-General & High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States and Secretary-General of the Mauritius International Meeting for the Review of the Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of the Small Island Developing States

At the ESCAP Special Body on Pacific Island Developing Countries
Eight Session

Shanghai, China
20-21 April 2004

It is with great pleasure that I speak and participate at the eighth session of the UNESCAP Special Body on Pacific Island Developing Countries. This session assumes a special significance as it is being held in Shanghai outside its usual venue and also as it is taking place prior to the International Meeting in Mauritius next August focussing on the sustainable development of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

My Office has a special interest in the Pacific Island Developing Countries. This is in view of the mandate and responsibility entrusted to us by the United Nations General Assembly for the mobilization of international support and resources as well as for the advocacy in favour of the small islands. We work in close cooperation with the Pacific Islands group of countries in New York so ably led by Ambassador Sapoaga of Tuvalu who is also one of the Vice Chairs of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) in New York.

In my capacity as the High Representative for the Small Island Developing States,I visited Fiji in August last year. On that occasion I had the opportunity to meet and discuss extensively the issues of interest to the Pacific islands with representatives of the government of Fiji – including the Prime Minister and several members of his cabinet, the UN and Civil Society representatives. I also had substantive discussions with our colleagues in the Pacific Forum Secretariat, the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) and the South Pacific Commission. We are following up on those discussions.

In view of its focus, the ESCAP Special Body on Pacific Island Developing Countries need to organize its future work for the regional level follow up on the outcome of the International Meeting to review the Implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action for the sustainable development of SIDS, to be held in Mauritius from 30 August to 3 September 2004. In convening the gathering in Mauritius, the UN General Assembly (resolution 58/213) decided last year that “the International Meeting will seek a renewed political commitment by the international community and will focus on practical actions for the further implementation of the Programme of Action, taking into consideration new and emerging issues, challenges and situations since the adoption of the Programme of Action”.

Just last week, a three-day preparatory meeting took place at the United Nations in New York and good progress was made in the negotiations for the preparation of the final outcome documents of the Mauritius Meeting. Based on the AOSIS Strategy Paper, as endorsed by the Group of 77 and China, substantive work has been undertaken under the able leadership of Ambassador MacKay of New Zealand, a country that is now the Chairman of the Pacific Islands Forum.

In the course of my interactions with member states on the nature of the expected outcome of the Mauritius International Meeting, I have, among other things, urged that the role of the intergovernmental regional organizations like the Caribbean Community and the Pacific Islands Forum needs to be enhanced in the implementation of the Barbados Programme. They are better placed than other international organizations when it comes to the regional countries. They know the region’s strengths and weaknesses. They know of the region’s capacities and resources. They are also better placed to initiate and push ahead with projects and programmes with the governments of the region.

A major development constraint of the Small Island Developing States is their small size and minuscule populations. When we factor in remoteness, the viability of many critical projects become questionable. This situation discourages external involvement and financing. One of the ways that this handicap can be addressed would be to establish regional programmes with national components. Regional organizations can then put together and provide justifications for viability and resource allocations. They will also be in a better position to negotiate resources with development partners and multilateral financial institutions.

As Secretary-General of the Mauritius International Meeting, I consider your deliberations as pertinent inputs to the Mauritius Meeting. At this meeting of the Special Body, you will be focusing on the theme topic: “Experiences and challenges in urban management issues in Pacific Island Countries.” Your deliberations will also look into the revitalization of the ESCAP Pacific Operations Center and the Commission’s activities in the Pacific. It would be also very useful if you deliberate on ESCAP’s further support to the implementation of the Barbados Programme in respect of the Pacific Island Developing Countries.

Reports submitted to this Special Body states that by 2025, half of the population of the Pacific Island Developing Countries would be living in urban areas. We are told that high population growth is polarized in one or two islands like Majuro in Marshall Islands, Funafuti in Tuvalu and Apia in Samoa, or dispersed over a number of centers such as in Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Urban populations in the atoll societies of Kiribati, Marshall Islands and Tuvalu are vulnerable because of restricted land areas, rapid growth rates, rising sea levels and climate change, overcrowding and poor infrastructure, which together pose fundamental barriers to sustainable economic, social and cultural development. These facts alone make the consideration of the theme at this Special Body of critical importance for the islands of the Pacific.

The Barbados Programme of Action addresses the sustainable development issues of SIDS and highlights the environmental and economic vulnerabilities of island economies. It is well known that urbanization puts great stresses on available capacities and resources. Appropriate technologies, management capacities and financing are required to administer urban populations – and all of these are scarce in the Pacific Island Developing Countries. The G-77 Strategy Paper for the Mauritius Meeting highlights these problems of urbanization in a most glaring manner identifying in particular health, capacity building and education, energy, transport and communications, waste management, fresh water and land management.

In addition, island and coastal population centers are exposed to natural and environmental disasters for which there is a need to establish safeguards and make contingency requirements. In this way, climate change and sea level rise threatens many coastal habitations as well.

In the course of our preparatory work for the Mauritius International Meeting, I have urged the consideration of new and emerging issues that assumed importance since the Barbados Programme was adopted. One of these is the HIV/AIDS pandemic. From amongst the SIDS regions, the Caribbean region is already the most threatened area after sub-Saharan Africa. It is unfortunate that the Pacific Islands are increasingly under the threat of the HIV/AIDS pandemic – a scourge that could decimate the working populations from the ages of 15 to 45 of island nations. Urban populations in the islands are obviously the most vulnerable.

Your work in this Special Body is not only relevant for the Mauritius Meeting, but the outcome of Mauritius will also be crucial to moving ahead with issues of sustainable development in general and urban development in particular for the Pacific islands..

I wish you all success in your deliberations.