Sustainable development for small island states

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) share economic difficulties and development imperatives with other developing countries. However, as small island states, they also have their own unique vulnerabilities and characteristics, which make their pursuit of sustainable development particularly complex.

Forty-three SIDS and territories all through the world are monitored by DESA, in terms of their sustainable development. Such development should be seen in relation to both the needs and aspirations of human beings, and their responsibility towards present and future generations.

Status quo of Small Island Developing States

Small Island Developing States are low lying, remote and small in land area and population (usually less than 1.5 million). These countries are often categorized by three regions: the AIMS (Africa, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Sea), the Caribbean, and the Pacific.

SIDS are confronted with many challenges, like small population, limited resources, remoteness, susceptibility to natural disasters, vulnerability to external shocks, and excessive dependence on international trade, all of which have the potential to hinder the sustainable development of these States.

In addition, the growth and development of SIDS are also stymied by high transportation and communication costs, disproportionately expensive public administration and infrastructure due to their small size, and little to no opportunity to create economies of scale.

“By almost any conceivable measure, Small Island Developing States are among the world’s hotspots in terms of sustainable development. SIDS’ vulnerability was most recently demonstrated by the impacts of the global financial, food and fuel crises, as well as devastating earthquakes, a tsunami, floods and tropical storms. Unfortunately, greater resilience due to improved economic and governance capacities has in many cases been more than offset by greater exposure to natural and man-made shocks, including those related to climate change,” said Alexander Roehrl, Sustainable Development Officer.

However, small islands also have many valuable resources, including high levels of endemism and biodiversity. The wealth of local eco-systems acts as a magnet for tourists, and it is no surprise that tourism is the main source of income for many SIDS. Unfortunately, the relatively small number of the various species that populate these islands puts them at risk of extinction, and increases their need for protection.

“Tourism is the main source of national income for many SIDS, which makes them highly reliant on international tourism trends and on the global economic situation. However, if not closely regulated, expanding tourism infrastructures can negatively affect local eco systems, which are among the main tourist attractions in the first place.

Undoubtedly, one of the question for SIDS is to maintain tourism revenues without depleting local eco-systems, while at the same time diversifying their sources of national income in order to reduce their vulnerability to exogenous factors, such as tourism trends,” said Alexander Voccia, Associate Expert in Sustainable Development.

Sustainable development for SIDS

Due to their small size, development and environment are closely interrelated and interdependent for SIDS. Recent human history contains examples of entire islands rendered uninhabitable through environmental destruction owing to external causes. Thus, it is generally agreed that environmental consequences of ill-conceived development can have catastrophic effects. The efforts currently underway in Haiti are a clear example of the importance of taking into account long-term development perspectives – even in the face of sudden catastrophes.

“While the immediate disaster relief and humanitarian assistance continue by well-placed UN agencies after the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti a month ago, and where over two-hundred thousand people are estimated to have lost their lives, it is important to plan to meet the medium- to long-term sustainable development challenges that Haiti will be facing.

This is where DESA could make the most significant contributions. The DESA Haiti Task Force is preparing coordinated responses in this regard and DESA’s Division for Sustainable Development is also working with UNCRD’s Disaster Management Office in Kobe (Japan) to see how their preventive and post-earthquake information and capacity building advisory and activities could be applied,” said Hiroko Morita-Lou, Chief of the SIDS Unit.

Unsustainable development threatens not only the livelihood of people but also the islands themselves and the cultures they nurture. Climate change, climate variability and sea level rise are issues of grave concern. Similarly, the biological resources on which SIDS depend are threatened by the large-scale exploitation of marine and terrestrial living resources.

While the wealth of natural resources available to SIDS is well recognized, the short and long-term challenge for SIDS is to ensure that these resources are used in a sustainable way for the well-being of present and future generations. Development initiatives for SIDS should be seen in relation to both the needs and aspirations of human beings, and their responsibility towards present and future generations.

Sharing a common aspiration for economic development and improved living standards, SIDS are determined that the pursuit of material benefits should not undermine social, religious and cultural values or cause any permanent harm to either their people or their land and marine resources, which have sustained island life for many centuries.

These unique development challenges, as well as a framework for overcoming them, are reflected in the internationally agreed development goals for SIDS.

The Barbados Programme of Action (BPoA) and Mauritius Strategy of Implementation (MSI) and further actions

Adopted during the first Global Conference on Sustainable Development of SIDS in Barbados in 1994, the BPoA represents a basis for action in 14 agreed priority areas and defines a number of issues related to environmental, social and economic development planning that should be focused upon by SIDS with the cooperation and assistance of the international community.

In 2005, The International Meeting to Review the Implementation of BPoA for the Sustainable Development of SIDS was convened in Mauritius. The meeting was concluded with the adoption of a pro-active Strategy to further implement this programme of action, called Mauritius Strategy of Implementation (MSI), and of a political declaration, i.e., ‘The Mauritius Declaration’. The MSI sets forth actions and strategies in 19 priority areas.

This year, member States will undertake a five-year review of the MSI. In February, the Pacific Regional MSI+5 Meeting was convened in Vanuatu. This month, the AIMS Regional Meeting in Maldives and Caribbean Regional Meeting in Grenada will take place.

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