Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Coastal region and small island papers 13

Truck dumping 
rubbish, San Andres, 

Palau’s famous Rock Islands, 2002.

5. Future directions for Small Islands Voice

‘There is a perception that life in small islands is very idyllic, not much to do, only rest in the sun. But on small islands everyone is touched by everything that happens in the island. Living in Honolulu, I never went to a funeral. Now, living in Palau, I attend funerals once a month, always someone I have a link to and a loss I feel. When a murder is committed, everyone is touched. We deal with these issues on a magnified scale. Last year, a Palauan woman who had never been in the country was shot and killed in Las Vegas. The entire country mourned, we all had connections to her’.

Tiare Holm, Palau, November 2002.

Small Islands Voice seeks to identify issues in environment and development at the local level and to discuss these concerns nationally, regionally and inter-regionally.The outcome of these debates will then be channelled in two different directions: (i) back to the local  level for action on the ground, and (ii) towards the global level, especially international programmes dealing with sustainable development of small islands.

Furthering the discussion

While an important start in discussion and identification of issues has been made, this is only a beginning.The coming years will see a much wider and more intense debate taking place in the islands, as well as the strengthening of infrastructure and capacity in traditional and new communication technologies. Once this is achieved, the stage is set to begin to turn the talk to action.

All the islands represented at the workshop emphasized the need for action on the ground.

‘We need to work locally, produce something on the ground, make a difference’.

Bruce Gray, Cook Islands, November 2002.

This is among the long-term goals of Small Islands Voice, namely to promote the effective participation of civil society, including young people, in sustainable island development. Thus it is envisaged that effective action on the ground will be the focus during 2004–5, provided additional funding is obtained for Small Islands Voice.

One of the unique aspects of Small Islands Voice, and one that differentiates it from many other projects and programmes is the inter-regional aspect. Bringing islands together from the three regions, Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific, provides an exciting dimension not yet fully explored. This is already beginning to be seen in the Small Islands Voice global and youth fora and in the workshop discussions.

During the workshop, the participants discussed future plans and proposals in an interregional setting. Several opportunities emerged for linking the regions.

Proposals for linking the regions

The global internet-based forum is an important way to link the regions. Efforts will be made to expand the number of recipients who receive the Small Islands Voice forum contributions by e-mail. Linking the forum with other media, such as newspapers, radio and possibly community television, will also widen the forum’s readership and impact.

Filming of a discussion between Caribbean and Pacific islanders for a future 
video production, Palau, 2002.

Developing an online Small Islands Voice newsletter is another way to keep the participating islands in contact with each other and informed about activities elsewhere. For instance, Palau is proposing to restart a community visioning process, which is of interest to the other islands. An online newsletter will be one way to keep the other islands informed of progress with community visioning. Other potential activities include linking islands with common or similar languages and cultures, e.g. Seychelles with its Creole culture with some of the Creole-speaking Caribbean islands.

One of the issues common to all the islands is solid waste disposal. Finding ways to share the Cook Islands’ successful experiences with recycling in the small island context provides another opportunity to link the regions.

Other inter-regional proposals relate to young islanders. Student exchanges between the regions have tremendous potential in the fields of culture, education and ambassadorship among others, not only for the individual students involved, but also for their schools, communities and possibly entire islands. Initial discussions are in progress between Mitiaro in the Cook Islands and Bequia in St Vincent and the Grenadines, thus linking the Pacific and the Caribbean in the first instance.

Expanding the scope of the internet-based youth forum is another way of strengthening inter-regional linkages. Expansion was proposed in terms of adding further schools in the participating islands as well as inviting ‘new’ islands to take part. Issues already discussed on the forum can be developed in more depth and eventually individual islands might wish to move to establish their own national internet-based youth fora, whilst still maintaining links to the inter-regional forum. The national fora represent a step towards developing action plans and implementing specific activities on the ground. he potential of the youth forum to become a distance learning tool with the added development of specific educational materials was also recognized and will be explored further.

Providing opportunities for some of the youth taking part in the forum to meet face to face is another way of strengthening inter-regional bonds. Planned regional activities may be one way to achieve this goal. For instance, in the Caribbean there is a regional project for schools called Sandwatch, developed within the framework of UNESCO’s Associated Schools Project network. Sandwatch seeks to provide students with practical skills in environmental sciences by monitoring various aspects of beaches, such as erosion, water quality, human use, and then assisting the students with designing and implementing projects to improve their country’s beaches. A regional Caribbean Sandwatch meeting scheduled for mid-2003 would provide an opportunity to invite students and teachers from Small Islands Voice countries in the Indian Ocean and Pacific regions, to experience the project and to see if they might want to develop similar initiatives in their regions.

Students role-playing in 
order to explain beach 
conflicts, Sandwatch 
Project workshop, 
St Lucia, 2001.

Proposals for national activities

For the most part, new national activities will concentrate on expanding and intensifying the debate and discussion. In addition, other islands will be encouraged to get involved in Small Islands Voice.

In the Caribbean, St Kitts and Nevis plan to use all forms of media to further debate the issues already identified. They also intend to ensure that the phrase ‘Small Islands Voice’ becomes known to every resident. Free internet facilities will be provided for the public to take part in the global Small Islands Voice discussion fora, and an audio-visual centre is being planned. The potential for a sub-regional internet discussion forum will also be explored.

The Cook Islands plan to explore the potential of community television, particularly in the outer islands where television has just recently become available.They also plan to strengthen the communication facilities in the outer islands.

In all the regions, other ways to bring the internet to isolated communities will be explored. These will include community multimedia centres and radio browsing in collaboration with UNESCO colleagues in the Communication and Information Sector.

In the Indian Ocean, Seychelles plan to ensure the full and active involvement of the non-governmental community in Small Islands Voice, as well as widen the debate and discussion. Activities are also underway to involve the Maldives in the Small Islands Voice initiative.

A proposal by Palau relates to community visioning, which is designed to provide for community involvement in planning and managing each state’s future development. (Palau is a federation of 17 autonomous and very small states; these are synonymous with what would elsewhere be called communities.) The concept calls for each community to participate in preparing plans for the type of development they want to see in their area (or state) in the future. The visioning exercise will lead to master land-use plans in each state which are agreed upon and supported by the entire state community. These plans need to be formally endorsed by each state and then implemented. Community visioning shifts decision-making to members of the community, while still including policy makers and expert planners. The community visioning process started in Palau in 2000, but stalled after a while since there was no clear time line. Palau has proposed re-starting this activity as a part of Small Islands Voice. The other Small Islands Voice countries have expressed interest in the concept of community visioning.

Efforts to fully involve young islanders will be continued in all the islands. St Vincent and the Grenadines plan to maintain their focus on youth and in particular to integrate their Sandwatch project activities with Small Islands Voice. San Andres also propose to focus on generating debate among youth and also specific groups such as resource users and communities. A Small Islands Voice youth newsletter will be a particular focus in the Cook Islands. Palau, with the support of the Vice-President’s Office, proposes to establish a youth group which will play an active role in environmental and community issues. Another idea being explored is to establish a Youth Conservation Corps to conduct environmental monitoring in each state, which will assist communities in monitoring and managing their own resources. The potential exists to link this activity with the Cook Islands Environmental Ranger Youth Programme which started in May 1998, and has implemented a number of projects in all the islands of the archipelago. The programme has been named recipient of the Commonwealth Youth Award for the South Pacific for three years in succession.

Having a voice in international programmes

Contributing the general public’s concerns to the global level, especially international programmes dealing with sustainable development of small islands, is another goal of Small Islands Voice. In particular, 2004 will see a review of the Programme of Action for SIDS.

Background to recent international programmes

In 1992, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, the world community adopted Agenda 21 (UN, 1992).This represents a global consensus and political commitment at the highest level on development and environment co-operation. Following on in 1994, the Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States held in Barbados, attempted to translate Agenda 21 into specific policies, actions and measures to be taken at the national, regional and inter-regional level. The resulting Declaration of Barbados and the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States listed 15 priority areas for specific attention (SIDS, 1994).These were as follows:

  1. Climate change and sea level rise

  2. Natural and environmental disasters

  3. Management of wastes

  4. Coastal and marine resources

  5. Freshwater resources

  6. Land resources

  7. Energy resources

  8. Tourism resources

  9. Biodiversity resources

  10. National institutions and administrative capacity

  11. Regional institutions and technical co-operation

  12. Transportation and communication

  13. Science and technology

  14. Human resource development

  15. Implementation, monitoring and review

Within each priority area, actions for implementation were developed at the national, regional and inter-regional levels.

In 1999, a Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly was held to assess progress and boost support for the islands. During this meeting, six of the 15 problem areas were identified as being in need of priority attention for the next five years:

  1. Climate change – adapting to climate change and rising sea levels, which could submerge some low-lying island nations;

  2. Natural and environmental disasters and climate variability – improving preparedness for and recovery from natural and environmental disasters;

  3. Freshwater resources – preventing worsening shortages of freshwater as demand grows;

  4. Coastal and marine resources – protecting coastal ecosystems and coral reefs from pollution and over-fishing;

  5. Energy – developing solar and renewable energy to lessen dependence on expensive imported oil;

  6. Tourism – managing tourism growth to protect the environment and cultural integrity.

In September 2002, at the United Nations Millennium Summit, world leaders agreed to set a series of time-bound and measurable goals and targets for combating poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation and discrimination against women.These are called the eight Millennium Development Goals (see Table 2). Number eight, which deals with developing a global partnership for development, specifically mentions SIDS.


1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

  • Reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day;

  • Reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

2. Achieve universal primary education

  • Ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary schooling.

3. Promote gender equality and empower women

  • Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education preferably by 2005, and at all levels by 2015.

4. Reduce child mortality

  • Reduce by two thirds the mortality rate among children under five.

5. Improve maternal health

  • Reduce by three quarters the maternal mortality ratio.

6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

  • Halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS;

  • Halt and begin to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.

7. Ensure environmental sustainability

  • Integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes, reverse loss of environmental resources;

  • Reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water;

  • Achieve significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by 2020.

8. Develop a global partnership for development

  • Develop further an open trading and financial system that is rule-based, predictable and non-discriminatory – includes a commitment to good governance, development and poverty reduction, nationally and internationally;

  • Address the least developed countries’ special needs - this includes tariff- and quota-free access for their exports; enhanced debt relief for heavily indebted poor countries; cancellation of official bilateral debt; and more generous official development assistance for countries committed to poverty reduction;

  • Address the special needs of landlocked and small island developing States;

  • Deal comprehensively with developing countries’ debt problems through national and international measures, to make debt sustainable in the long term;

  • In co-operation with the developing countries, develop decent and productive work for youth;

  • In co-operation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable essential drugs in developing countries;

  • In co-operation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies – especially information and communications technologies.

In December 2002, at its 57th Session, the UN General Assembly decided to convene an international meeting in 2004, which will include a summit segment, to undertake a full and comprehensive review of the implementation of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of SIDS, and accepted the offer of the Government of Mauritius  to host the international meeting.

While at the time of writing (March 2003), timetables for preparations for the meeting in Mauritius in August 2004 are being developed; there will be two main types of activities taking place in 2003: (i) the preparation of national reports on the implementation of the Programme of Action, and (ii) a series of regional and inter-regional meetings to develop a common ground.

During initial discussions at the end of December 2002, in preparation for the plenary meeting of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), it was proposed that there should also be an opportunity for a Youth Forum and a Civil Society Forum to give direct input to the Mauritius meeting and that this be supported by UNESCO and the United Nations Environment Programme.

Other important international meetings related to Small Islands Voice are the World Summit on the Information Society to be held in Geneva in 2003 and in Tunis in 2005.

Proposals for input to the preparations for 2004

During the workshop, there was considerable discussion and debate on how to ensure that the work of Small Islands Voice plays a significant role in the preparations for the 2004 meeting in Mauritius. Concern was expressed that often the voice of civil society gets lost in the bureaucratic build-up to such international events.

‘When small island issues are presented in international fora, they take on a glossy, non-urgent character. They don’t have the same impact anymore. I am hoping that Small Islands Voice can help take us back to basics’.

Lolita Gibbons, Palau, November 2002.

However, it was noted that changes are taking place, for instance the European Union now makes it a requirement for countries to include civil society in their projects and programmes. Notwithstanding the above-mentioned constraint, it was agreed that efforts to contribute to the 2004 meeting have to be made at the national, regional and interregional levels.

At the national level, Small Islands Voice coordinators must work to ensure that the results of their surveys and other activities are made available, in as many different ways as possible, to the persons and agencies involved in preparing their country’s national reports. Thus this might require meetings, workshops, radio talk shows and a media blitz. UNESCO can possibly assist at this level by reminding governments of the activities ongoing within Small Islands Voice.

It will also be necessary to work with regional organizations, starting early in 2003, to make sure that they are fully aware and up to date with the activities and outcomes of Small Islands Voice. For instance in the Indian Ocean region, the Organization of African Unity takes up many issues on behalf of the islands in the Indian Ocean; island countries like Seychelles and Mauritius are very involved in such international discussions and preparatory meetings. Other organizations play a similar role in the other regions, e.g. the Caribbean Community in the Caribbean, the Council of Regional Organizations in the Pacific (CROP).

At the inter-regional level, participants emphasized the importance of small islands speaking with a unified voice. UNESCO can play an important role at the inter-regional level, ensuring that organizations like AOSIS and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, where the Small Island Developing States Unit and Network (SIDSNet) are housed, are kept fully updated with the results and outcomes of Small Islands Voice. The biennial General Conference of UNESCO is another platform to be considered by island member countries. Internet discussions and global fora, such as the Small Islands Voice global forum and the Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development forum, can also play a role, reaching, as they do, thousands of people around the world.

Final remarks

Small Islands Voice has to focus simultaneously at the local/national level and the regional/inter-regional level. This will be especially testing as time and resources are limited. However, the firm foundation laid in 2002 make this an exciting, albeit ambitious challenge.


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