years ago, the international community gathered in Barbados to
agree on a broad-based plan of action for the sustainable development
of the small island developing states (SIDS). The plan covers
45 such islands sprinkled all over our planet, ranging from Tuvalu
with the smallest population of 10,000 to Papua New Guinea being
the largest with 5 million - two big concentrations being in the
Caribbean and the Pacific. Vulnerability continues to be a major
concern for countries in their development efforts. No single
group of countries are as vulnerable as these small island states.
Beyond their idyllic natural beauty lies a fragility that makes
these countries so vulnerable that they needed to draw up a special
global endeavour to overcome their complex challenges and make
their development sustainable.
of these islands is compounded by their remoteness, isolation
from the mainstream of the world economy and international trading
system, ecological fragility and environmental degradation, marine
pollution, over-dependency on tourism as a major source of national
earning --- all these contribute to their slow and complex development
island developing states contribute the least to global climate
change and sea-level rise, they do suffer most from the adverse
effects of such phenomena and could in some cases become uninhabitable,
as indicated in the Barbados Programme. It has been rightly observed
that "As island societies strive to raise living standards
for growing numbers of people and struggle to survive in a complex
global economy, they often sacrifice the fragile ecosystems which
are among the most valuable assets." They continue to experience
a stress that they can hardly cope with by themselves.
the least developed and landlocked developing countries, the small
island developing states are the three most vulnerable groups
of countries of the world. In its Millennium Declaration of 2000
and in the development goals identified in that historic document,
the United Nations has recognised the special needs of the small
island developing countries. The
Barbados Programme of Action of 1994 is the first-ever intergovernmental
policy prescription to integrate the small islands into the world
economy. But after the decade-long serious efforts, this well-crafted
and elaborate document has remained largely unimplemented. The
well-intentioned commitments in 14 priority areas have failed
to get the required political will to turn those into real actions.
and equitable partnerships for sustainable development" promised
to these small islands have remained elusive. While repeatedly
emphasizing the need for national level action, it has been often
forgotten that these countries have limited capacity to respond
to the never-ending challenges and recover from recurring disasters.
Despite all the demanding national level actions undertaken by
the islands, requisite external support has been persistently
evading the SIDS. A serious effort was made in September 1999
to conduct a five-year review of the Barbados Programme at a two-day
special session of the UN General Assembly, but the outcome did
not have the desired effect of galvanising the global support
needed for these countries.
Now the General
Assembly has decided to undertake a ten-year review at an International
Meeting in Mauritius in August 2004. With only eight months to
go, focus should be on the substantive outcome of the conference.
The host country, Mauritius, is also the chairman of the Alliance
of Small Island States (AOSIS), the group that has the responsibility
of substantive negotiations on behalf of these countries. With
nearly a decade's experience of the implementation process, the
AOSIS is well-placed to articulate a worthwhile outcome at Mauritius.
As we prepare for the Mauritius Meeting, it is incumbent on all
to keep the focus on an outcome that is practical, cost-effective,
benefits the neediest in society - and above all, implementable.
Focus on key priorities like freshwater, new and renewable energy,
connectivity, climate change and the emerging scourge of HIV/AIDS
through enhanced regional integration would surely be considered
a pragmatic approach.
A key factor
in implementing any negotiated document among governments is how
effective the monitoring mechanism is. It is also important to
set the right tone by sequencing a congenial and practical negotiating
process among all stakeholders on the road to Mauritius. So far,
the three regional meetings in Samoa, Cape Verde and Trinidad
and Tobago have brought in an elaborate set of recommendations.
All these are going to be refined and blended together in a platform
of the small island developing states at an interregional gathering
in the Bahamas in January next year.
a three-day preparatory meeting in New York in April involving
SIDS and all their development partners, the scene will move to
Mauritius. For a meaningful outcome that would have the maximum
support of the international community, it is essential that the
donor countries, relevant UN entities, multilateral financial
institutions, the private sector and civil society participate
in and contribute to this process enthusiastically. Spirit of
partnership is the most important ingredient that would make the
outcome worthwhile and its realization possible. The
international community, equipped with the lessons of the last
ten years, needs now to come together to support - in real terms
- the genuine aspirations of the small island developing states
and their determined effort for a new resurgence in Mauritius
to bring true benefit and progress for the women, men and children
of this most vulnerable segment of the humanity.