Finding a balance between rapid development and preserving island ambience and environment is one of the main challenges facing small islands. Sharing the lessons learnt and experiences gained in seeking and finding this elusive balance is one of the goals of Small Islands Voice, an inter-regional project of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). One of the most promising initiatives emerging is that of island visioning whereby islanders determine how they want their islands to develop in the future and how to make this vision become reality. There are two areas of emphasis: communities and youth. A community visioning initiative has been started in Palau and is described here, along with a longer running programme in Moloka'i in Hawaii. A similar visioning approach is being adopted among island youth in a side event to the International Meeting to review the Programme of Action for Small Island Developing States to be held in Mauritius in January 2005.
Seeking a balance between rapid development and preserving the island ambience and way of life is no easy task, but it is one that must be confronted as islands seek their place in the global community in the 21st century. For each island, the balance is going to be different. Sharing the lessons learnt and experiences gained in seeking and finding this elusive balance is one of the goals of Small Islands Voice, an inter-regional project of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
SMALL ISLANDS VOICE
Small Islands Voice (SIV) started in 2002 and is all about (1) providing mechanisms for people living in small islands to discuss their views on environment and development; (2) encouraging people to get involved in sustainable development issues so that (3) they can contribute to the implementation of the Programme of Action for Small Island Developing States.
Finding out the issues
Finding out the main issues that concern people living in small islands was the first main objective. Opinion surveys were conducted in six islands on 2002:
These surveys targetted a representative 1% of the population and adopted a 'blank sheet approach'. People were asked to list a specified number of changes they has seen over the past ten years (both good and bad); to indicate changes they would like to see in the next years; and to comment on whether the public was fully involved in planning the future development of their island. Each island modified the survey slightly according to their own specific situation.
Complementary to the opinion surveys, discussions were held in many islands - through town hall-type meetings, workshops, radio call-in shows, national and regional consultations, and other means - to widen the scope and depth of the discussions. Islands involved in these activities included the six listed above as well as The Bahamas, Cuba, Dominica and San Andres Archipelago in the Caribbean, Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, and Fiji in the Pacific, a total of 12 island territories.
The process was widened to include additional islands through a global internet forum. This forum, started in 2002 and known as SIV Global, is available on the internet (www.sivglobal.org) and it also goes out as an email message once every two weeks to more than 20,000 addresses of people living in small islands. The first topic was road development in Palau. Responses are compiled every two weeks and posted on the forum, as well as going out by email. Each topic is usually run for about two months, after which all the responses are compiled on the website and a brief summary is prepared. Topics have been very varied and have included:
Based on the number of responses received to each article and the comments received, the forum has been very successful.
A similar forum, but this time a live, un-moderated forum was started for secondary school students in more than 40 schools across 12 island territories, in 2002 (www.sivyouth.org with username view and password only). The youth introduce their own topics and discuss them amongst themselves. Subjects have ranged from incest to island heritage, and from whaling to hydroponics. This forum, now in its third year has been very successful, providing for inter-island and inter-regional exchanges. In the case of the Maldives and Seychelles it led to a physical exchange since the students were not prepared just to discuss issues by internet, but wished to meet and work together. As a result a joint project involving the Maldives and Seychelles youth has started 'Zero tolerance for litter'. Island partners and teachers play a large role in the success of the Youth Forum.
What are the issues?
Compiling the results from the opinions surveys, internet forums and other activities was an interesting and mammoth task. The key concerns for the general public proved very similar amongst islanders in the three regions. Listed in order of priority, they are:
Other important issues were identified in particular islands, and in some cases they may have been the most important issue for a particular island, these issues were:
The discussions, as seen in detail on the forums, highlight the importance of island cultural heritage and how it provides people with a sense of continuity, giving them a sense of belonging and identity. The erosion of traditions and customs, the loss of local languages, and the decline of traditional leadership (especially in the Pacific islands) are viewed with concern by many islanders, including youth. Among the social issues, increasing crime and violence, especially among youth, is a growing concern. Economic issues, foreign investment, tourism, inward and outward migration, and environmental deterioration are also concerns for islanders. This is especially so in outer islands of archipelagos such as the Cook Islands, Maldives and The Bahamas, which often stand in danger of being left out of the mainstream of development.
What comes next?
As mentioned in the beginning, one of the main objectives of Small Islands Voice is to get people involved in sustainable development, and through so doing to become a part of the Small Island Developing States Programme of Action. The Programme of Action, although drawn up in 1994, has had limited success or impact, and has yet to become a driving force for sustainable development in small islands.
So, within the framework of Small Islands Voice, island partners select key issues to address through specific action on the ground. The particular issue and activities are determined by island partners, for example several islands are working on recycling and solid waste management initiatives, another island, St. Kitts and Nevis, is working on the crime and violence issue, and yet another island, Cook Islands, is working on recording on video tape island memories from the Outer Islands before they are forever lost as the island elders die.
One of the most interesting initiatives that is emerging is 'Island visioning.' A key component of visioning is for islanders to determine how they want their communities and islands to develop, and assisting them, where necessary, with making their vision become reality.
Island visioning is all about islanders articulating how they want their islands to develop in the future and how they plan to help make this happen. Within the framework of Small Islands Voice, there are two ongoing initiatives: community visioning and youth visioning.
Community visioning is essentially a long term planning process whereby communities lay out a blueprint for changes they want to see within their communities, they then implement the plan and evaluate their progress on an ongoing basis.
Community visioning was developed as a programme of the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development Office of Community Development. It has worked successfully in several rural areas in the USA, and one notable example is the island of Moloka'i in Hawaii.
There are three main stages:
Community visioning started in several different parts of Palau in 2001, and communities began by preparing vision statements, which are individual to each community. The following is the vision statement prepared by the inhabitants of Sonsorol, a small, isolated group of islands in southern Palau.
However, the visioning process in Palau came to a temporary halt in 2002, due to a lack of funding and coordination. Starting in 2003 it has restarted, with the support of Small Islands Voice, and is being coordinated by the Palau Conservation Society.
A refresher workshop in 2004 has re-invigorated the community leaders to go back to their communities and begin the process of drawing up plans to implement their visions. The workshop participants were enthused by the successes of Moloka'i, one of the Hawaiian islands. Over a period of six years they have been implementing their plan and have achieved some remarkable successes:
Using the same principals of community visioning a 'Youth Visioning' initiative has been started as a way to involve youth in the Programme of Action for Small Island Developing States (www.islandyouth.org). Representing a significant part of the population of small islands, young people with their enthusiasm, passion and drive, need to be fully involved in the Programme of Action. Young islanders, 13-23 years, have been invited to take part in a visioning process whereby they can articulate how they want their islands to develop in the future and how they plan to help make this happen. The visioning will centre around three broad themes, which emerged from the Small Islands Voice internet discussions in 2002-3:
Three stages are involved: firstly, preparatory activities among island youth, e.g. local meetings and discussions, fund raising activities, media promotion of the visioning activity, web-based discussions about the themes. Secondly, youth participants from island countries will meet in Mauritius for a period of five days, 7-12 January 2005, to discuss concerns, share information about activities, and shape their vision. They will then present their vision backed up by proposals to the main United Nations (UN) meeting, which will be held from 10-14 January 2005. Thirdly, after the meeting in Mauritius, island youth will prioritise actions at a local and national level, and begin implementation.
This short paper has just provided a few small snapshots of the myriad of activities that islands are undertaking within the framework of Small Islands Voice. It is hoped that by continuing to work locally and sharing the experiences with others around the world, these activities will indeed make a difference.
See the corresponding powerpoint presentation