Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Coastal region and small island papers 11


Small islands, pinpoints of land in a seemingly endless expanse of water, have been making theirs a ‘special case’ in a world increasingly dominated by continental countries. Their plight has been described and discussed at global meetings such as the ‘Earth Summit’ in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, and at the ‘Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States’ in Barbados in 1994.

However, besides obtaining world-wide understanding of their situation, and at the same time seeking external assistance to implement programmes of action for sustainable development, such as the one agreed to in Barbados in 1994, small islands also need to look inward and to their island neighbours to see what they can do on their own and together with the resources at hand.

Recognizing the value of human resources in small islands, and especially the inherent self-reliance of islanders, UNESCO’s interdisciplinary platform for ‘Environment and Development in Coastal Regions and in Small Islands’ (CSI) has sought to work with small islands on their paths to sustainability. Capacity building is at the forefront of these efforts, as specific initiatives have been launched and supported in varying fields, including local and indigenous fishers’ knowledge, conservation of beach, coral-reef and mangrove resources, disaster preparedness, ecotourism, to name but a few.

In order to overcome the geographical isolation of small islands, linking these initiatives within and between regions has become a complementary focus. In December 2000, an inter-regional workshop for technical and professional persons from small islands was held in Samoa. Here the benefits of interregional linking were confirmed, as islanders from diverse geographical and cultural backgrounds, working in government service, non-governmental organizations, academia and aid agencies, came together to advance a small-island agenda, built on an essentially pragmatic approach, that of wise coastal practices for sustainable human development. This approach acknowledges the inequalities and diversities of the real world and attempts in a practical manner to provide guidance on what can wisely be done under the prevailing circumstances.

To further this small-island agenda, a second inter-regional workshop was held in Dominica in July 2001. Here participants developed specific ideas relating to coastal conflict prevention and resolution through wise practice agreements and ethical codes of practice, while continually focusing on the need for improved communication. These ideas are discussed in detail in the present publication.

Workshops such as these in Samoa and Dominica, are not endpoints, but represent progress along the road to sustainable development. The outcomes from the meeting in Dominica are already being developed into further initiatives linking small islands. One of these relates to the issue of land tenure, which lies at the root of many conflicts in small islands. A second initiative is ‘Small Islands Voice’, an endeavour started in January 2002, which seeks to strengthen internal, regional and inter-regional communication in and among small islands.

Through such efforts, which continually focus on enhancing the capacity of human resources in small islands, it is hoped to assist islanders to chart their own future – a future based on practicality, which recognizes the uniqueness and self-reliance of island peoples, and founded on the principles of sustainability.

Dirk G. Troost, Chief CSI
Alexandra Burton-James,
UNESCO National
Commission for the Commonwealth of Dominica
Gillian Cambers, UNESCO Consultant

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