Statement at Ambassadorial Level Meeting on the Impact of COVID-19 on Peacebuilding and Sustaining Peace in the Pacific Islands
Statement by Ms. Fekitamoeloa Katoa‘Utoikamanu, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States
28 July 2020
New York, USA
Ladies and gentlemen,
I very much appreciate the opportunity to address your Ambassadorial-level meeting.
I welcome that I can once more highlight, from a Pacific SIDS perspective, how more than ever we must be vigilant about human security, about the intricate relationship between peace and development. Some used to call this the continuum between peace and development!
A prevention agenda must understand and act on the complex interactions between health, climate and security risks, the economy , the geography of SIDS, their place in international relations and the global economy, their social fabric, their institutional and operational capacities. In short we must get an operational grasp on the cross-cutting nature of a prevention agenda.
Already prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, SIDS in the Pacific were struggling.
They were struggling to be integrated into the global economy and to meet their sustainable development goals.
The Pacific Regional Review Meeting leading to the High Level Mid Term Review of the SAMOA Pathway in September 2019 drew attention to that.
The ongoing pandemic has brought about new and additional challenges and aggravated existing challenges.
Of course, and in the first instance, COVID has laid bare the weaknesses of the health sector in SIDS. But that is merely what I call the tip of the iceberg.
The preliminary findings of the joint UN Socio-Economic Impact Assessment indicate how the region now goes through a significant loss of jobs and income, primarily in the tourism and hospitality industries.
These losses exacerbates stark existing inequalities, increase extreme poverty, and limit access to health care and education for so many and especially a significant proportion of the young Pacific Islanders’ community.
By its very geographies and demographies, the region generally experiences economic vulnerability. This vulnerability limited what could be done to establish formal social protection provision.
The typical safety net is family and the community and remittances. If remittances fall, if everybody in the family looses formal income, that safety net is threatened.
The prediction is for a prolonged economic downturn. The consequence is major, prolonged strain on social fabrics.
The relationship between economic contraction and increased social tensions is well established, is universal.
The Pacific is no exception to that.
This is of particular concern at a time where some countries head into general elections in 2021.
According to the 2019 Human Development Index for the Pacific, there is an urgent need to rethink social contracts in the Pacific.
It is urgent to do what is needed to guarantee fundamental human rights and freedoms including gender equality, political participation for women, and access to justice.
There is an urgent need to build social contracts providing for universal access to social protection with social protection floors mindful of context and culture.
Traditional support systems in the family and in the community will remain strong and they have their role to play in social stability.
Yet, the pressure on these support systems now is such that universal access to social protection is a must.
It is all about strengthening and building stability. It is all about the connect between development and peace.
The inequality driver in the COVID 19 spread, in climate change impacts has been laid bare before all of us. We cannot dig our heads in the sand or close our eyes.
Social protection floors are needed to mitigate severe inequalities, to reduce poverty in the Pacific SIDS and allow Governments to maintain peace and pursue their road to an inclusive sustainable development.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me to turn to another very critical aspect in the peace and development connect of the SIDS.
The Pacific regrettably is home to some of the highest rates of domestic violence and intimate partner violence in the world.
Crises tend to exacerbate such behaviors and this has been the case everywhere.
Violence against women and girls, against children deeply impacts on, destroys social cohesion and generates short AND long- term economic costs.
To address domestic violence and intimate partner violence, the Pacific received a EUR 50 million allocation from the European Union through the UN-EU Spotlight Initiative.
Funds have been made available to Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Timor-Leste and Vanuatu.
A regional funding window aims to give access to knowledge and good practices across the Pacific.
The Spotlight Initiative can record good progress in engaging communities, faith-based organizations and village councils.
But, it has not yet triggered major policy changes nor improved the quality of services provided to victims.
Partly, this is due to COVID-19 imposed access restrictions and the changing priorities.
Once more, I make an appeal for strong leadership and political backing. We have to change course in the Pacific. We must act now and fast to improve the quality of life for women, girls, people with disabilities, for vulnerable groups including the LGBTIQ community.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have multiple challenges ahead of us all to preserve peace so that sustainable development is not words but reality for people.
Now more than ever, we must act in solidarity.
Pacific SIDS cannot undertake these efforts on their own.
By and large, they are highly indebted countries facing increased fiscal stress to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.
Countries need international support.
We must act NOW to reverse the socio-economic impacts of the pandemic-related restrictions. This is critical to the stability of the Pacific region.
Let there be no doubt, assisting countries to go back on a path to equitable and sustainable growth will be a slow process.
Let us also not forget the large scale impact of the pandemic on key donors and their peoples in the region such as Australia, New Zealand, USA and the EU.
However, addressing immediate needs enabling countries to reopen their borders and resume economic activity as soon as feasible is a prerequisite for a peaceful recovery process.
This will also be less costly in the medium- and long- term than the deep, prolonged costs inaction and ensuing instability bring about.
Debt is an issue. The ongoing efforts in the Caribbean region can serve as a model.
Initiatives to service debt including debt swaps (debt-to-development, debt-to-environment, debt-to-equity) must be undertaken in the Pacific as well.
We must equip countries with that minimum of capacity needed to resume activities and mitigate virus spread risks.
I wish to highlight the work of the United Nations through its Pacific Humanitarian Team.
The team developed the COVID-19 Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP). The plan is based on an extensive consultative process involving Governments, regional and international NGOs, the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat and the CROPS, donors and partners.
The HRP provides for need estimates across several sectors such as Education, Emergency Telecommunications, Food Security, Logistics, Nutrition, Protection, Shelter, and WASH.
Immediate needs are estimated at over US$ 35.3 million.
To date, the Government of New Zealand has pledged NZ$ 24.7 million over a period of 2 ½ years to the HRP through the Pacific Partnership with the United Nations.
Additional resources are urgently needed to meet the operational requirements of the HRP.
For the region to move to recovery mode, the gap must be funded.
A Health Response Plan was developed by the Joint Incident Management Team co-led by WHO and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.
The main goal is to urgently equip countries with the necessary testing, tracing, isolation and treatment capacities. Needs are estimated at US$ 42 million.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As I stated at the outset, we face a complex situation. We must address short- term requirements and simultaneously the ongoing and upcoming challenges to peace and development in the region.
In the Boe Declaration on Regional Security, Pacific Leaders re-affirmed that climate change remains the single greatest threat to livelihoods, security and wellbeing of the peoples of the Pacific.
If we are serious about human security, if we are serious about preserving peace in the Pacific Region, we must more than ever address the climate-related threats to security.
The Pacific is home to three of the four exclusively atoll nations: Republic of the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and Kiribati.
I am not sure how many of you have spent time on an atoll! By now sea level rises mean lost agricultural land, flooded causeways and ever reducing living space! The TIME Magazine cover of the Secretary- General many of you saw is not fiction, it is REALITY.
Let there be no doubt, lack of action equates with climate refugees will likely increase in number.
It is very important for the member states making up the United Nations to address NOW issues pertaining to the law of the sea and the rights of affected countries.
It is a good first step to see the recent allocation by the Peace Building Fund of some US$3 million to a Climate Security project for these three atoll nations.
For the UN, this regional project is a first.
It is the first climate security cross-border initiative in the Pacific.
We have no time to waste in responding to the linked challenges of climate change, peace and security. We must support regional and international cooperation among Small Islands Development States (SIDS).
This project, to be implemented by UNDP and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), should provide capacity to the three atoll nation countries to assess, better understand and address their own very specific and very urgent climate security issues.
I look forward to seeing the lessons learned that can be shared with other countries in the region and beyond.
The great hope is that this marks the beginning of a collective effort on this issue.
My hope is also that the initiative provides for youth and gender-sensitive responses and dialogues on how to address the challenges of climate change in the Pacific.
As far as OHRLLS is concerned, we, together with the Pacific Island Forum, DPPA and OLA, organized a briefing session on Sea-Level Rise and Maritime Boundaries in the Pacific, on 2 July 2020.
The session built on a workshop, also organized with DPPA, on “Climate Change, Conflict Prevention and Sustaining Peace: Perspectives from the Pacific,” in May 2019.
Both meetings provided information on work covering the implications of climate change and sea-level rise in SIDS, and on national, regional and international efforts to address challenges, and identify possible next steps.
One strong take-away I have is that the international community, including for the Green Climate Fund and other currently available financial instruments, must look into an adjustment to the work of climate related funds so that they systematically address human security and relocation.
Only last Friday, under the Presidency of Germany, the Security Council conducted an open debate on climate and security.
This was the latest in a series of discussions on this theme in that forum.
We heard numerous calls for action at various levels. We heard how urgent it is to prevent the growing impacts of climate change from undermining our efforts at conflict prevention, peacemaking and sustaining peace.
Time to act is NOW. We cannot afford further delays. The Barbados conference on SIDS took place in 1994, too much time has already elapsed.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me to now turn to the QCPR.
The QCPR Report of the United Nations Secretary-General, and the specific MCO Review Recommendations endorsed by ECOSOC, draw attention to the opportunity in the Pacific to revise its regional strategy.
A revised strategy ought to reflect regional dynamics and take a stronger conflict-sensitive approach to the pathway of change.
Country Plans now required to complement the UN Pacific Strategy UNPS 2018-2022 can serve to further localize approaches in line with the geographic, economic, social, institutional and cultural differences across Pacific countries.
The recently established UN Pacific Strategy Fund as a Multi-Partner Trust Fund could be used by the international community as a funding vehicle to reduce fragmentation and allow for a more strategic engagement of the United Nations with Governments and partners in the Pacific.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let there be no doubt, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in the Pacific will be profound and will be long lasting.
The difference between stability and instability, between exclusion and inclusion, between a glass half full or half empty will be the degree to which we show solidarity, partnership and are inclusive.
The pandemic very vividly shows us that we live in an interconnected world.
More than ever, collective action in solidarity is important and urgent.
More than ever and at a time of the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations, multi- lateral cooperation for peace and security for all is a must.
A delivery as one, a cohesive UN action approach is essential.
The challenge before us is to facilitate and deliver on a coherent, multi-dimensional and cross-pillar response integrated into the logic of the SDGs.
Thank you again, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to participate in this timely meeting.
I look forward to your discussions.