Opening Statement at the 2020 SIDS National Focal Point Meeting: AIS Region
Statement by Ms. Fekitamoeloa Katoa‘Utoikamanu, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States
4 August 2020
New York, USA
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to welcome you all to this meeting of the National Focal Points of SIDS in the Atlantic, Indian Ocean and South China Seas (AIS) region.
I thank you all for getting together on this virtual platform at a time when the challenges of your countries are most severe.
The annual meetings of the national focal points are increasingly important in enhancing the coherence of SIDS issues in UN processes, including at the national, regional and global levels. They are also a more and more critical force in steering the focus and efforts of my Office and the UN system in general to deliver targeted support and policy advice at the regional and global levels.
In this connection, I would like to express my gratitude to the colleagues from the UN and other international and regional organizations for your active participation and your spirit of partnership in this endeavor.
This year, with the impact of the COVID pandemic, we are not able to hold the regular in person meeting of the national focal points, which he had planned to convene in the Caribbean for the first time, in Antigua and Barbuda.
Further, with the time differences, and other technical constraints, we have had to convene separate regional meetings, which do not allow for the cross-regional discussions and face-to-face networking that are so important to this mechanism.
We have already convene the virtual meetings for the Pacific and Caribbean regions, over the last few weeks, and they have only served to confirm exactly how necessary and useful these virtual meetings are. They allow our national focal points to remain engaged at a time when the sharing of information, lessons learned and best practices is perhaps more important than ever.
The meeting for the Pacific and the Caribbean region reminded us that country nuances matter; that we must respond to unique needs.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Last year, the high level Mid Term Review of the SAMOA Pathway revealed that while some tangible progress had been made over the past five years in implementation, there were still major gaps and challenges that need to be addressed.
This year, the COVID-19 pandemic threatens this hard won progress. The pandemic has also resulted in a new array of challenges to implementation, while aggravating existing ones.
COVID-19 has laid bare the weaknesses of the health sector in SIDS. It has negatively affected the education sector, especially for the most vulnerable with unequal access to digital technology infrastructure. The pandemic has put tremendous pressure on already limited social protection systems and has triggered large-scale unemployment, which disproportionately affects the poor and vulnerable.
Over the past few months, SIDS have experienced an unprecedented decline in economic activity, with rapidly plummeting tourism and remittance flows, and the disruption of global supply chains. Already shrinking ODA, major loss of foreign investment challenges, and challenges related to debt servicing have resulted in limited fiscal space to both respond to COVID-19 and to build back better, including in the face of growing environmental challenges and pressures of climate change.
Indeed, in the AIS region, COVID-19 has further exacerbated the vulnerabilities with which these countries are already confronted. Further, The AIS region is made up of a group of diverse countries, which comes with its own set of challenges. With no formal coordinating mechanism, the development of regional platforms for the implementation of the SAMOA Pathway in AIS has proven to be a complex undertaking. This also speaks to the challenges in coordinating among these countries toward taking better advantage of possible regional platforms for lesson learning and sharing best practices in the face of COVID-19.
This notwithstanding, the AIS region is also made up of a group of innovative, creative and resilient countries that will no doubt overcome these challenges. The region has produced thought leaders and taken key actions in many areas, including sustainable energy and tourism, innovative financing, climate change and resilience-building. And it is this type of thinking, which will undoubtedly help these countries on a path to recovery.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is clear that however that SIDS will also need targeted and effective international support, in order to innovate and implement bold changes that would boost economic resilience to exogenous shocks, including COVID-19, and to build diversified economies.
In this connection, the UN system has prioritized the most vulnerable countries, including SIDS, in its response to COVID-19 at the national, regional and global levels. My Office continues to advocate for and promote partnerships in SIDS on a range of issues, including on access to concessional financing, debt sustainability, sustainable energy solutions and food security.
In the context of the focal point mechanism, we are working to build capacities to respond to the range of shocks facing SIDS, toward the implementation of the SAMOA Pathway. We will be circulating the SIDS National Focal Point Guide in due course, and will continue to explore ways to implement the capacity building strategy that we have shared with you earlier in the year.
As a part of this effort, we will be working with Malta and the Small States Centre for Excellence toward the recovery of the tourism sector in SIDS. We will also work with the Maldives on a high-level dialogue, later in the year, on how the sector has been impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic and investigate best practices in re-starting the sector. We will share more on this in the coming weeks.
We are also working toward finalizing the toolkit that we considered during last year’s focal point meeting.
As you may be aware, the toolkit is provide guidance to national governments and relevant stakeholders on effective and harmonized monitoring and reporting on the implementation of the SAMOA Pathway, in alignment with the monitoring and reporting frameworks of other international agreements, including the SDGs and the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction.
One of the biggest challenges of finalizing the toolkit is the lack of a clear reporting framework, with validated targets and indicators, for those areas of the SAMOA Pathway that do not overlap in categorization and focus with the SDGs or Sendai Framework.
Last year, the United Nations General Assembly called upon the Secretary-General to identify those SAMOA Pathway priority areas not covered by the SDGs or the Sendai Framework, and to develop targets and indicators for those priority areas. This work will build on the work done by OHRLLS on the toolkit and provide the validation process for these targets and indicators.
OHRLLS is working with DESA to complete this work by the next year September, which would also allow for the finalization of the reporting toolkit. This will in turn allow us to better evaluate and track success in the implementation of the SAMOA Pathway, which is even more critical as we face these multiple and ongoing crises.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This meeting provides us with the opportunity to reflect on these and other responses that have been put in place, as well as those that are still needed to put us back on track to realize the SAMOA Pathway and the 2030 Agenda in SIDS.
It will feature resource persons and country representatives from across the region, who will share their challenges, strategies and approaches in response to COVID-19 at the national, regional and global levels.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to inform you that we launched our new website week before last under the UN online umbrella at www.un.org/ohrlls. We hope that you will find the website to be an important resource for information on events, reports and activities carried out by the office, relevant official documentation and other reports covering the LDCs, LLDCs and SIDS and on how global trends, from COVID-19 to climate change, are playing out in the world’s most vulnerable countries.
This website will also be fully integrated to the advocacy and social media work of the office, providing a forum for information exchange on ways to move forward.
Now, I look forward to listening to you.