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Battered by Hurricanes Island Leaders Seek Support

Battered by hurricanes, sea level rise and trade losses

Island leaders call for international support at the Mauritius conference in January 2005

United Nations -- With nearly half of all small island nations having been hit by severe weather disasters over the last two years, and many of them having suffered major trade losses due to the dismantling of market access preferences, the leaders of many small island developing States (SIDS) spoke out during the opening week of the 59th Session of the United Nations General Assembly. Island leaders called on the international community to take their vulnerabilities into account and to pledge support at the upcoming Mauritius International Meeting (10-14 January 2005), which will review progress in carrying out the programme of action for the sustainable development of small islands since it was agreed ten years ago at a global conference in Barbados.

Following are excerpts of speeches that island leaders delivered last week before the General Assembly:

Mr. Kessai NOTE, President, Marshall Islands Along with other low-lying island nations, we are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. We are already experiencing these dramatic effects - sea levels are rising, weather patterns are changing, and coral reef systems are being harmed. Urgent action is needed at the global level to halt and ultimately reverse the devastating impacts of climate change. Without such global action, our national efforts at sustainable development will ultimately be rendered meaningless.

Mr. Fradique Bandeira DE MELO DE MENEZES, President, Sao Tome and Principe As an island nation, Sao Tome and Principe continues to see our very existence threatened by global warming. Our shorelines erode, our national territory shrinks as the seas rise. Is my small country to end up nothing but a tiny volcanic peak sticking up above the waves with the last of our people clinging to the land left unclaimed by the rising sea? The Kyoto Protocol must be implemented by all for the benefit of all.

Mr. Boniface ALEXANDRE, Interim President, Haiti Du haut de cette tribune, je lance un appel solennel à la communauté internationale, aux pays amis, aux institutions spécialisées des Nations Unies, et à tous ceux pour qui l'impératif de solidarité n'est pas un vain mot, pour qu'une attention particulière, dépassant le stade de simples gestes symboliques, soit prêtée à la République d'Haïti, pour qu'un effort substantiel et bien orienté de coopération puisse aider à mobiliser les ressources nécessaires, en vue d'une action immédiate et à long terme, propre à favoriser en Haïti le retour à une croissance soutenue, après des années de stagnation.

Mr. Pedro Verona RODRIGUES PIRES, President, Cape Verde Mon pays, la République du Cap-Vert, figure parmi les Petits Pays insulaires. Nous pensons que nos États, du fait de leurs conditions spécifiques, méritent une audience différenciée de la part de la Communauté internationale. Ces États affrontent des fragilités et des limitations spécifiques dans les domaines économiques, sociaux et écologiques, qui doivent être dûment pris en compte. (...) De plus, les Petits États insulaires représentent souvent des réalités physiques et humaines uniques, constituant des patrimoines uniques de l'humanité.

Ms. Sandra S. PIERANTOZZI, Vice-President, Palau While images of swaying palm trees and white-sand beaches prevail in the world's imagination, they are only one part of the story. In truth and in fact, the remoteness and isolation of Palau make it a very difficult place to develop a self-reliant economy, provide medical care and education to its people, and deter aggression and terrorism. Fuel and transportation prices are among the highest in the world (?) and our most promising hope for the development of a sustainable economy, our pristine environment, is threatened by factors beyond our control, such as the failure of all industrialized countries to come to an agreement to implement the Kyoto Protocol.

Mr. Roosevelt SKERRIT, Prime Minister, Dominica Dominica and all other Small Island Developing States attach great importance to [the Mauritius] International Meeting and hope that it will galvanize greater commitment from he International Community towards provision of additional resources critical for advancing the implementation obligations of the next phase of the [Barbados] Plan of Action. (?) The focus on terrorism and the costs of complying with the requirements to prevent terrorist attacks in a region [the Caribbean] that is renowned as a zone of peace, are challenging our commitment to social and economic development. Every cent spent on addressing this threat is a cent taken from our campaign to sustain the fight against trafficking in narcotic drugs and human beings, the pandemic of HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases, and degradation of our common environment.

Mr. Baldwin SPENCER, Prime Minister, Antigua and Barbuda Grenada and Haiti are now in a condition comparable to a massive bombardment. Against this backdrop, I urge the United Nations ? every single nation large and small -- to intervene in those two Caribbean countries devastated by recent hurricanes. The two Caribbean countries are certifiably disaster areas. (?) In this age of globalization, where the emphasis is on bigness, being small is definitely a disadvantage of major magnitude. Small economies cannot easily diversify production. Jobs are concentrated in a limited number of industries, namely agriculture, tourism and services. Tragically, we are now encountering a situation where our unemployed young people are easily induced into the drug trade.

Mr. Patrick MANNING, Prime Minister, Trinidad and Tobago The catastrophic events of the present hurricane season bring into sharper focus yet another dimension of the vulnerability of Caribbean countries. The January 2005 International Meeting in Mauritius to Review the implementation of the Barbados Plan of Action must seek to comprehensively address the new and emerging threats to the sustainable development of small island developing States. And may I here state that a whole new set of security issues have now arisen in the Caribbean as a result of these developments and the International Community might wish to take note.

Mr. Laisenia QARASE, Prime Minister, Fiji As we begin negotiations with the European Union for the continuation of [existing trade] arrangements, we are finding to our dismay that the World Trade Organization's (WTO) insistence on free and open trade will effectively mean for many ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific) countries, including Fiji, a massive loss in export earnings from reduced prices. For our sugar industry, the direct consequence will inevitably be that the price the cane farmers receive will fall substantially below their production costs. (?) These WTO hurdles are made more difficult by the loss of competitive margins through the withdrawal of schemes like the Generalized System of Preferences. The consequence is that many Small Island Developing States, already disadvantaged by their smallness, distance from export markets, and regular devastation from natural disasters are now faced with serious uncertainty over their economic prospects.

Mr. Tuila'Epa Sailele MALIELEGAOI, Prime Minister, Samoa Our Pacific island nations, including my own country, know from bitter experience of cyclones that regularly batter our region, of the disheartening effect of disasters in setting back in a matter of hours hard-earned development achievements of many years. SIDS concerns and the vulnerability of our nations are therefore quite real. While we accept the primary responsibility for achieving the goals of the [Barbados] Programme of Action, the reality is that the support of the international community is indispensable to success. (?) Trade is a vital component of sustainable development especially for small island developing States. We therefore continue to urge that the vulnerabilities of small States are taken into full account in the WTO negotiations particularly with regard to special and differential treatment for small economies.

Mr. Ralph GONSALVES, Prime Minister, Saint Vincent and Grenadines Today in Grenada there is no economy, no functioning government as we have come to accept that term, and a highly traumatised civil society. (?) The crisis in Grenada, occasioned by nature, prompts St. Vincent and Grenadines to give the highest priority to the International Conference in Mauritius in January of next year when the specific and distinct problems of Small Island Developing States will be highlighted. We will be stressing the need for the international community to take urgent action on the problem of global warming and climate change which, if left unchecked, could lead in this Century to a global human and economic calamity.

Mr. Maatia TOAFA, Acting Prime Minister, Tuvalu We in Tuvalu live in a constant fear of the adverse impacts of climate change and sea level rise. With a height of a mere three meters above sea level, our livelihoods and source of food security are already affected badly, with increased salinity in ground water, land erosion, coral bleaching and total anxiety. The threat is real and serious, and is of no difference to a slow and insidious form of terrorism against Tuvalu. (?) We are deeply concerned by the failure and the lack of leadership on the part of industrialized countries in the implementation of commitments, and in the ratification and enforcing of the Kyoto Protocol.

Mr. Julian Robert Hunte, Minister of External Affairs, Saint Lucia, and President of the 58th Session of the UN General Assembly The spate of deadly hurricanes that continue to traverse the Caribbean region, have brought sharply into focus the issues on which Small Island Developing States (SIDS), including Saint Lucia, have urged the United Nations and the international community to act. We have reiterated, for example, that SIDS are vulnerable, and that special and differential treatment, fair prices for commodities and development financing are essential to their sustainable development.

A Webcast of the above declarations and electronic written versions of the leaders' entire statements are available on http://www.un.org/webcast/ga/59/archives.html

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