Opening Statement at the Virtual Island Summit 2020

Opening Statement by Ms. Fekitamoeloa Katoa‘Utoikamanu, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States

8 September 2020 
New York, USA

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is my privilege to address this Virtual Island Summit.

An impressive range of stakeholders has come together to share  expertise and knowledge on island communities at a time where uncertainties, new challenges, and structural transformations call for innovation.

As High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, a key role is advocacy.

Beyond that, I myself, come from an island nation.

For all, but especially also the island communities, 2020 has been and continues to be a challenging year like few others have been in our lifetime.

Last year, we held high-level mid-term review of the SAMOA Pathway, which, together with the Barbados Programme of Action and the Mauritius Strategy for Implementation, are blueprints for achieving a sustainable development of SIDS.

What became evident is that  while some tangible progress has been made over the past five years,  major gaps and challenges remain.  I call it us having a glass half full. 

The gaps and challenges in themselves pointed once more  to the unique vulnerabilities of SIDS, caused by both endogenous and exogenous factors.

The SIDS continue to grapple with their lasting structural constraints in their efforts to mobilize domestic resources for sustainable development.

The resources needed to address poverty and social inclusion; to remedy  persistent challenges around food security and nutrition, health and non-communicable diseases, violence against women, youth unemployment, and inequality just are not there or not sufficient.

SIDS continue to face increasing and more frequent exogenous challenges from ranging from the adverse impacts of climate change, to exogenous economic and financial shocks.

To make the situation even more complex,  many SIDS are considered middle or high-income countries, and this limits their access to development financing.

Of course, none of us could foresee the unfolding of this year.

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a new and additional set of challenges to SIDS while aggravating existing ones.

What is now  threatened is the hard-won progress in meeting sustainable development goals.

Countries now face the challenge to manage an unprecedented state of economic and social affairs.

In the immediate, 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 very limited social protection systems.

It has triggered large-scale unemployment, which like everywhere else disproportionately affects the poor and vulnerable.

Over the past few months, SIDS have experienced an exceptional decline in economic activity.

A key employer and income earner is tourism.

With the rapidly plummeting tourism and remittance flows, and with none of us knowing when once again travel can resume safely, I am sure I do not need to paint the picture to you !

Add to this the disruption of global supply chains,  shrinking ODA, major loss of foreign investment, and challenges related to debt servicing, we have a near perfect storm.

The bottom line is a severely constrained  fiscal space to both respond to COVID-19 and to build back better, including in the face of increasingly frequent and devastating extreme weather events. 


Ladies and Gentlemen,

The time is now to extend targeted and effective support to the SIDS.

Innovative and bold changes are needed.

Changes that can boost resilience to exogenous shocks, including COVID-19, and help build more diversified economies.

To achieve that,  true partnerships, genuine international support, notably from multilateral organizations and bilateral partners, must step in now.

Significant technical and financial resources, including new and innovative financial instruments, are needed.

SIDS need immediate and effective commitments for long-term debt relief and restructuring.

A key driver has to be the building of resilience including resilience to respond to climate change and extreme natural events.

In its response to the pandemic, the United Nations has prioritized the most vulnerable countries and they include the  SIDS.

What we can see so far is that the socio-economic responses at national and regional levels have aided in boosting health systems.

Social protection measures have ensured to a degree that people’s needs for basic services are met, especially the most vulnerable groups in society such as women, children, the elderly, and those with disabilities.

Economic interventions have supported the informal sector, workers, small and medium-sized businesses.

Everything must be done so that hard won gains are preserved and that people can see  a future to look forward to  post-crisis.

Many of the responses have been based on multilateral collaboration to ensure macroeconomic stability and support for financing decisions.

Efforts are made to improve resilience and capacity building so that societies may emerge greener, digital, and more resilient to future shocks.

At the global level, OHRLLS supports these efforts.

Beyond our advocacy role we focus on  strengthening coherence in the UN response to the crisis.

We established a SIDS National Focal Point mechanism, which has become a critical force in steering the focus and efforts of the UN system to deliver targeted support and policy advice in the implementation of the SAMOA Pathway and the SDGs.

We  recently held virtual meetings for  three SIDS regional groups: the Caribbean, Pacific and the Atlantic and Indian Ocean and South China Sea (AIS) regions.

These meetings have allowed our national focal points to remain engaged at a time when the sharing of information, lessons learned, and best practices are perhaps more important than ever.

They have also reminded us that country nuances matter and that we must respond to these unique needs. There is no one size fits all.

A common theme across the focal point meetings was the need to leverage the health crisis to build back better.

SIDS know that the crisis beyond its threats, is the opportunity to diversify  narrow or single sector economies and move away from the reliance on fossil fuels.

SIDS know they must advance new sectors such as renewable energy, digital infrastructure, and they must give greater prioritization to investment in green and blue economies.

But SIDS need the fiscal space to make these things happen.

They need fiscal liquidity and they need concrete solutions to address  their immediate and longer-term debt challenges.

They need tailored partnerships in a number of areas, including the development of statistical systems, to better plan, monitor and evaluate the implementation of their sustainable development goals.

OHRLLS continues to advocate for and promote partnerships in SIDS on these issues.

On access to concessional financing, we are engaged in a number of work streams.

We work with the International Financial Institutions and the G20.

We are engaged with the World Bank Group to review access to IDA and IBRD resources on an exceptional basis.

We know how vitally important it is to expand access to concessional financing and existing emergency financing instruments to meet the considerable needs of SIDS during this crisis and beyond.

OHRLLS  in close partnership  with other UN agencies, also works on the development of a multi-dimensional vulnerability index.

We see this as  crucial to redefine eligibility to concessional financing.

We are committed to bring this important policy tool as fast as we can to  Member States for their consideration.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me turn to the debt issue.

The United Nations Secretary General has initiated a broad financing for development process, together with Jamaica and Canada.

The objective is to present an ambitious menu of policy options to Heads of State and Government.

The policy options are to help countries recover from the current crisis in the short term; mobilize the financial resources to achieve the SDGs; as well as build the resilience and the sustainability of countries, and the global financial architecture over the medium to long term.

In this context, OHRLLS, together with AOSIS, organized a special discussion on the debt risks in SIDS.

The outcome of the discussions fed into the menu of options to be presented to Ministers of Finance, and then Heads of State and Government, later this month.

We will follow up with a special high-level meeting on SIDS’ debt sustainability early next month to bring much needed attention to the needs of the SIDS.

This will  particularly be the case in the lead up to the Fall Meetings of the IMF and the World Bank Group.

With respect to partnerships, we continue to promote outreach with the private sector, including through our SIDS Global Business Network (GBN).

The biennial Forum of the GBN will take place later this year in Palau in the margins of the Our Oceans Conference.

You all know the saying how island states are big ocean nations.

We really must drive home the importance of the ocean as a cross-cutting sector for sustainable development in SIDS.

The recovery from COVID-19, the 2020 SIDS GBN will focus on ocean partnerships to enhance resilience across a range of areas, including ocean energy and the use of marine resources, as well as sustainable and diversified tourism.

Further information on the Forum will be available on our new website in due course.

Incidentally, 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.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

As I conclude, I thank the organizers for holding such an important and exciting  Summit, and I look forward to listening to you and learning for your insights.

Thank you.