The Barbados Programme of Action Ten Years After
The SIDS Agenda in Review
Diane M. Quarless
Chief, Small Island Developing States Unit,
U.N. Dept. of Economics and Social Affairs

Speech delivered on 27 June 2004 during the 6th Caribbean Media Exchange, St. Lucia


The international community is currently engaged in a comprehensive review of the Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, ten years after its adoption in 1994. This in-depth review, which began early last year, was undertaken by the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) at the national, regional and interregional levels ending with a Ministerial Meeting in Nassau, Bahamas, before the results of their audit were brought for the consideration of the wider international community. The exercise will culminate with a Summit meeting in Mauritius in January 2005.

The member states of the UN are currently engaged in the negotiation of a text that takes into account progress so far achieved, and recommends a strategy for the further implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action (BPOA). It is expected that the adoption of this strategy will be the main outcome of the meeting in Mauritius next January.

The overall assessment of implementation from the perspective of the SIDS is that what progress has been made has been largely achieved through the effort of the SIDS themselves.

The SIDS in their review also identify a number of key emerging issues not covered in-depth – if at all - at Barbados, that have since assumed greater significance, and have made implementation of the BPOA all the more challenging. These emerging issues are:

The impact of HIV/AIDS on the well-being of SIDS populations, and the social and economic impact of this and other lifestyle diseases on the sustainable development of SIDS. In this respect, HIV/AIDS and health related concerns were addressed from a developmental and not just medical perspective;

Increased security concerns, which embraced not just the increased attention to and cost of post 9/11 security measures, but also the broader demands of human security, such as protection from natural disasters, food security, and the need to control crime associated with narco-trafficking and the illegal trade in small arms;

Recognition of the importance of technology, particularly information and communication technology in enhancing the competitiveness of SIDS, which translated into greater emphasis on building knowledge- based societies;

Wide concern at the erosion of trade preferences with the advent of the WTO, and an expressed need for special and differential treatment in the face of the increasing vulnerability of SIDS; and

The need to place greater attention on the protection of indigenous culture and the promotion of cultural industries as a sector with tremendous growth potential and which offers natural comparative advantage for SIDS.

Most importantly, however, the SIDS charged that the international community had not lived up to the political commitment made in 1994 to support the islands in their effort to implement the BPOA.


The Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, adopted in Barbados in November 1994 was hailed as the first expression of the international community’s commitment to partnership for sustainable development. That commitment was grounded in acknowledgement born at the Earth Summit in Rio two years earlier that the serious consequences of unbridled consumption of the earth’s natural resources in the interest of the enrichment of the few were very real, and that they affected disproportionately the smallest and most vulnerable states; the islands.

The big issue at that time, of course was climate change and sea-level rise, which placed the SIDS as the most environmentally vulnerable group because of their susceptibility to many phenomena associated with global warming:

Loss of coastline, and in some cases in the Pacific, the threat of total submersion;

Destruction of reefs integral to beach protection, fish nurseries and coastal tourism, due to coral bleaching;

Dramatic increase in the frequency and intensity of hurricanes, cyclones and other extreme weather events; 1998 saw six major hurricanes and weather event in the Caribbean alone.

The reduced resilience of land and marine ecosystems; and

Projected increases in vector-borne diseases such as malaria and typhoid.

Beyond the environmental concerns, the international community addressed the need for greater equity in the distribution of the world’s wealth, ensuring, importantly, that development proceeded in a manner that met the broadest needs of the present generation without mortgaging the future of succeeding generations. This is the concept that defines sustainable development.

So at Barbados in 1994, the SIDS identified both their environmental and economic vulnerabilities by virtue of a set of characteristics intrinsic to these islands, and secured the commitment of the international community to help them overcome the challenges which these vulnerabilities posed to their development efforts.

These characteristics include:

Small size;

Narrow resource basOpen economies, vulnerable to exogenous shocks;

Undiversified economies; with dependence in many cases on a single commodity for export revenue;

A high degree of exposure to climate change;

Susceptibility to natural and environmental disasters;

Weak human resource and institutional capacity;
Remoteness, and high transportation costs, affecting competitiveness in trade.

The international community therefore adopted a fifteen – chapter programme of action describing an integrated approach to the management of sustainable development in SIDS:

Climate change
Natural and environmental disasters
Waste management
Coastal and marine resources
Land resources
Strengthening national institutions
Regional institutions and cooperation
Transport and communication
Science and technology
Human resource development
Implementation, monitoring and review

It is impossible for me to cover these points adequately in this time-frame. It is sufficient to say that the BPOA was a well-conceived blueprint for the integrative development of small island states. It recognized that by virtue of size alone, in geographic space, population and resource base all aspects of an effective development strategy for SIDS are necessarily interdependent.

This has been very effectively demonstrated during this meeting, applying the sustainable development concept to sustainable tourism.


Let us return to the SIDS evaluation of international commitment to implementation of the BPOA, ten years after its adoption. Consider these facts:

In the ten years since the adoption of the BPOA, official development assistance to the SIDS has declined by an average of 50%. In fact, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago in 2001 were among those SIDS that recorded net negative ODA flows; minus $1.5m and minus $1.73m respectively .

Investment, particularly FDI, which rose marginally after Barbados, has been in steady decline for the past five years.

Following the advent of the WTO and the attendant loss of trade preferences, the SIDS share in global merchandise trade declined from a high of 0.4% in 1980 to 0.2% in 1990. The fact that SIDS maintained their share of global trade in services was due partly to strong performance in the tourism sector, and partly to improvements in the telecommunications and financial services sectors of SIDS.

Not withstanding the continuing threat posed by climate change and sea-level rise to SIDS, major Annex One countries have yet to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and even resist the current efforts of the SIDS to have the international community as a whole implement policies to promote increased use of renewable energy sources, with a view to reducing domestic production of greenhouse gases. In the meantime, 80% of the Maldives atolls are in danger of complete inundation, and the possibility of evacuating the entire population of Tuvalu has actually been voiced.

From the ongoing negotiations, there is clear indication that the donor community, within the context of this review, will not likely commit new or increased financial resources to the SIDS beyond commitments made globally to the developing world within the framework of recently adopted development platforms; the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation adopted at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, and the Monterrey Declaration on Financing for Development.

In the case of trade, their position is even more intractable on the far-reaching demands of the SIDS. They argue that the matter is being handled substantively in the WTO, and it is unhelpful for another forum to address the issues for fear of prejudging that outcome.

Among the critical demands being made by SIDS are:

Recognition by the WTO of maintenance of non-reciprocal preferences for SIDS, and the provision of flexibility of SIDS to enter into such arrangements;

Expeditious completion of the Work Programme on Smaller Economies, which must address the problems of SIDS;

The creation of appropriate incentives by trading partners to induce investors to increase investment in SIDS economies; and

The need to strengthen the capacity of SIDS for more effective participation in decision-making processes in the WTO.

The absence of support on the part of the developed country partners, seen by the SIDS as an abdication of the political commitment made in Barbados in 1994 is most likely grounded in the perception that the SIDS as a whole are faring rather well for themselves. The factors used as evidence are:

The strong economic performance of many SIDS, many within the Caribbean; (Barbados 3.4%; Trinidad and Tobago 4.7%; and the Dominican Republic 5.0% growth in real GDP per capita )

Positive social indicators; medium to high human development indices, including high literacy and health indicators; and

The relative success recorded by SIDS in economic diversification, with particular emphasis on tourism, the exploration of niche markets and the development of the financial services sector, particularly off-shore banking services.

These indicators are invariably employed to justify the approach that the SIDS are ripe for weaning. Indeed, the high per capita income levels of some SIDS like Barbados, the Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda and Trinidad and Tobago have resulted in their graduation from eligibility for development assistance from some development agencies.

There is inadequate acknowledgement of the high skewness in the distribution of income, the plight of the significant SIDS populations subsisting below the poverty line, and the high levels of external debt and debt servicing being borne by a number of SIDS.

The issue of the weaning of SIDS touches on a broader, more fundamental issue, which is the need for a robust definition and the establishment of a set of criteria, which should attach. Historically the SIDS group (the Alliance of Small Island States, AOSIS) was constituted on a political basis, and includes today members as diverse as Singapore, Guinea Bissau, Malta and Cyprus (newly admitted members of the EU that still remain on the fringes of the group) and Bahrain. It is suspected that the resistance of the donor community to accord across the board concessions to this group is attributed in some part to this reality.

This fact notwithstanding, the economic and environmental vulnerabilities of SIDS speak eloquently of the continuing need of small island states for concessionary treatment:

Recurrent costs of reconstruction and infrastructural rehabilitation after natural disaster;

High costs re-insurance – when available;

The increasing cost in loss of highly skilled human resources; as fast as we train our teachers, nurses, doctors and other professionals, they are lost to northern markets;

The need for institutional strengthening and specialized human resource development, particularly in the science and technology fields;

The significantly increased challenge posed by HIV/AIDS, and increased security costs.


The direction of the ongoing negotiations give clear indication to the SIDS that principal responsibility for implementation of the BPOA will continue to rest with them. This reality begs a closer look at the record of the SIDS themselves in implementing the BPOA. The national and regional reports reveal that:

Significant efforts have been made at the sectoral level to implement specific mandates of the BPOA. A sector of note where greater progress should have been made is, of course, energy. The largely poor record of the SIDS (with few exceptions) in promoting the development and wider use of renewable energy sources has already been discussed at this meeting.

Substantial support from the regional technical and inter-governmental institutions had strong, positive effect on the capacity of SIDS to implement aspects of the BPOA at both the national and regional level. The development of strong regional support mechanisms to maximize the access of SIDS to technical and financial resources deserves further attention.

Full understanding and embrace of the concept of sustainable development, however, was very slow in coming at the policy and decision-making levels. Consequently, institutional reform to ensure a more coordinated, integrated approach to implementation of the programme is in most cases lagging. Sustainable development councils established have largely lacked the power to effect the radical change required for that degree of interdisciplinary, inter-sectoral planning and implementation implicit in the BPOA.

Most significant of all, however, is the fact that the BPOA, which for its successful implementation would require the partnership of all stakeholders in the development process; local government, NGOs, community groups, industry and the private sector and the media, remains a blueprint for action largely unknown to the wider populations of SIDS.

This is not an apportionment of blame; all major groups were represented at Barbados; all share the responsibility for its conscientious implementation.

If the sustainable development of the SIDS is to be achieved, then, we will need a sustained clarion call. We will need greater vigilance, and broader, more active participation in the implementation of this comprehensive programme. In this there is an important role for the media, and yes, for the tourism and other industry groups.


We will also need to explore meaningfully how the SIDS might enhance their capacity to advance the process of sustainable development. We have heard at this meeting the formidable growth potential of the tourism sector. I would like to encourage now the active exploration of a marriage between this sector and one of the new and emerging issues now on the SIDS agenda; the promotion of culture and the development of cultural industries.

It is argued that an effective people-centred development strategy for SIDS should be located in a cultural framework, because it is in reinforcing and cultivating in our people a strong sense of self, of identity and self-worth that we will strengthen their appreciation and ownership of the economic, social and environmental imperatives for development in their workplace and in their respective communities.

The vibrant cultural industries and the creative potential of the SIDS populations represent, like tourism in our islands, a natural comparative advantage. Our cultures are unique, diverse and rich. The potential for transforming the wealth of creativity that resides in our island people into commercially viable activities and exports for job and wealth creation is largely untapped in SIDS. Importantly too, cultural industries can also tap the creative potential of the youth, and so contribute to reduction in unemployment and poverty in this vulnerable group. Cultural industries should therefore be a logical point of departure for building competitive export industries that are rooted in local talents and resources. In this region in particular many examples of successful cultural and entertainment can be found, in the music, art, craft literary and culinary arts, fashion, festivals, theatre, film and cultural tourism.

Consider too, the promotion of cultural industries on a regional scale. This would not only strengthen the population of the region’s affinity to things Caribbean, but it would serve as a very strong pull for the considerable, increasingly affluent Caribbean Diaspora. In fact, Caribbean festivals have played a key role in generating new tourism demand not only from the Diaspora, but also within the region itself. Consider some of the popular, fast-growing Caribbean festivals that attract increasing numbers of foreigners and Caribbean nationals to the region each year:

Reggae Sumfest in Jamaica;

Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago;

The Festival de Merengue in the Dominican Republic;

The St. Lucia Jazz Festival;

The Barbados Crop Over Festival;

Dominica’s World Creole Music Festival; and

The St Kitts Music Festival.

It is estimated that these festivals have a significant impact on visitor arrivals, airlifts and hotel occupancy rates with spillover effects on media industries, local transport services and the food, beverage and restaurant sectors. Actual data on the economic impact of these festivals is largely un-documented, however. Important research is currently being undertaken, which, I am certain, will contribute significantly to substantiating the economic potential of these cultural industries, to demonstrate more accurately the broader macro-economic impact and spillover effect of a festival on the wider economy.

I note that the CTO is committed this year to examining new and innovative opportunities for investing in the tourism business. I challenge the industry to give serious consideration to the further development of specialty or niche markets in cultural tourism, and so contribute meaningfully to the enhancement of sustainable development in the region.