Into the

Paul Raymond Bérenger calls on the international community to recognize the seriousness of the plight of small island developing states and take concrete action to promote their sustainable development

Achieving the objectives of sustainable development is the greatest challenge facing nations – specifically small island developing states (SIDS) – and, indeed, the human race in general, at the dawn of the 21st century. This is why the United Nations International Meeting – which will undertake a full and comprehensive review of the implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of SIDS – will be of such vital importance, not only to SIDS but also to the whole international community.

As preparations gather momentum for the hosting of the International Meeting in Mauritius, we cannot help looking back on the important landmarks which have paved the way to this historic event.

The 1972 Stockholm Conference on Human Environment, by relating environment to development, placed the concept of sustainable development on the world’s agenda for the first time. Twenty years later, in June 1992, the United Nations World Conference on Environment and Development in Rio adopted Agenda 21 as a blueprint for sustainable development.

The inherent disadvantages and vulnerabilities of SIDS – whether at economic, social or environmental level – were recognized during the Rio Summit and this was reflected in Agenda 21. Since then, SIDS have been acknowledged by the international community at large as a ‘special case both for environment and development’. The factors identified as major constraints to the socioeconomic development of SIDS are:

  • their smallness

  • their remoteness

  • their vulnerability to natural disasters

  • the fragility of their ecosystems

  • isolation from markets

  • vulnerability to exogenous economic and financial shocks

  • a highly limited internal market

  • lack of natural resources

  • limited freshwater supplies

  • heavy dependence on imports

  • brain drain

  • their limited ability to reap the benefits of economies of scale.

The Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of SIDS held in Barbados in 1994 expanded further the notion of their ‘special needs', and more particularly the need to build resilience against vulnerabilities: the end result was the adoption of the Barbados Programme of Action. The programme addresses 14 of the most specific island issues – including water resources, sanitation, land use, biodiversity, conservation and protection, and marine resources – which are the fundamental pillars of their economies and sustenance. The Barbados conference was also the opportunity for building new partnerships for a sustainable development plan for SIDS.

Unfortunately, no new or additional funds were made available, as committed, for implementing the Barbados Programme, nor were any monitoring and review mechanisms put in place to report on the implementation process. The five-year review held in 1999 came and went, and it was business as usual. Very little progress had been achieved on addressing island-specific issues through implementing the programme.
We have no choice but to develop and reinforce partnership with the development partners
In the meantime, the world order had taken a turn for the worse both in economic and environmental terms. Countries with small economies and with little or no resilience were sinking lower and most SIDS were in a worse situation than when the Barbados Programme was approved.

Very few SIDS were able to mobilize extra resources for implementing the programme, and those which did had to divert already scarce resources from other important development projects.

Both the Millennium Summit of World Leaders in September 2000 and the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 called for a firm renewed commitment to meet the objectives of sustainable development at the highest political level and provided a golden opportunity for SIDS to claim lost recognition.

The International Meeting in August-September 2004 in Mauritius provides us with another opportunity to revisit the Barbados Programme. This time, we cannot afford to make any mistakes. We have no choice but to develop and reinforce partnership with the development partners.

The Programme is still as valid today as at the time of its adoption ten years ago. However, new elements have compounded our already serious situations, such as difficult trade rules, erosion of acquired access rights to traditional trading markets, diseases such as HIV/AIDS (which are exacerbating an already critical lack of human resources), serious natural disasters (more cyclones, droughts, flooding, etc.), coastal erosion and overexploitation of marine resources, and security problems affecting air transport and the tourism industry amongst others.

Global problems need global solutions and, to that end, we believe that a holistic and integrated approach is called for. The Mauritius International Meeting is a unique forum for challenges and opportunities, for sharing experiences, and drawing lessons from the past with a view to bringing SIDS into the mainstream of sustainable development. We are looking forward to its outcome, which should not only contain recommendations, but also be target oriented with clear timetables as provided for in the Millennium Development Goals and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation. In addition, it will be necessary to ensure monitoring through a mechanism set up for follow-up implementation.

In Mauritius, we are perfectly conscious of the heavy responsibilities incumbent upon us as the host country, but it is a privilege to assume them. Every effort is being undertaken to make the International Meeting a success in terms of organization, as well as recommendations and outcome.

We want our development partners to realize the seriousness of the stakes for SIDS and we expect they will find no difficulty in providing the necessary support.

Naturally, this will require the massive and active participation and cooperation of one and all: SIDS, United Nations and the whole international community.

We welcome you to Mauritius!

The Hon. Paul Raymond Bérenger, GCSK is Prime Minister of the Republic of Mauritius.

PHOTOGRAPH: Jochen Tack/Still Pictures

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Töpfer | Into the mainstream | Creation’s forgotten days | Restoring a pearl | Stop my nation vanishing | Energy release | Oceans need mountains | People | An ocean corridor | At a glance: Seas, oceans and small islands | Profile: Cesaria Evora | No island is an island | Small islands, big potential | Small is vulnerable | Natural resilience | Books and products | Keeping oil from troubled waters | Redressing the balance | Neighbours without borders | Will Mother Nature wait? | Pacific canaries

Complementary articles in other issues:
Issue on Climate, 1997
Issue on Climate and Action, 1998
Issue on Oceans, 1998
Issue on Fresh Water, 1998
Issue on Small Islands, 1999
World Summit on Sustainable Development, 2002
Issue on Energy, 2003
Globalization, poverty, trade and the environment, 2003