Ms Farzana Zahir, Deputy Permanent Representative
on Eradication of Poverty (AOSIS)
11 October 2017
Mr Chairman, Excellencies, Distinguished Colleagues,
I have the honour to speak on behalf of the Member States of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). We align ourselves with the statement delivered by the distinguished representative of Ecuador on behalf of the Group of 77 and China. At the outset, we wish to thank the Secretary-General for his reports under this agenda item, which will help guide our discussion on these very critical matters. We however, remain hopeful that future reports will be more action oriented and more analytical.
We would like to begin by recognizing that small island developing States generally do not speak on this Agenda Item, yet this year it feels important and timely. SIDS are not traditionally among those categorized as in extreme poverty. However, the trends of increasingly frequent and more intense natural disasters and other extreme weather and environmental events, which recently have been so devastating, are reversing any sustainable development gains we have made, making clear the need for our attention.
These extreme weather events on top of the lingering effect of the 2007-2009 global financial and economic crises put us further in debt. We have very limited space to diversify our economies, due to our highly dispersed populations, remoteness, limited growth, and high import costs, and often we rely solely on tourism, agriculture and fisheries – all of which are industries facing great harm from climate change and thus facing great volatility; not industries which offer stability.
We are most times trapped in a vicious cycle that is occurring more with more negative impact. Our already limited resources go towards rebuilding, rather than moving forward in terms of progress on sustainable development. The bulk of the SIDS population is quite young and of working age, this poses tremendous problems for countries constantly going through devastating disasters, which most time reduces employment opportunities, as well as basic services and necessities, as several small businesses are forced to close following disasters. Therefore, any advances we are able to make, they are unfortunately quickly reversed not only by external economic and financial shocks or natural disasters, but also other aspects of climate change including warming ocean temperatures, sea level rise and ocean acidification.
Most countries rarely see category five hurricanes, yet thus far this season saw some 14 storms, 9 of which were hurricanes - two of which were category 5s. As this becomes a common thing rather than an anomaly, SIDS are working to prepare and become more resilient, yet we cannot prevent these storms ourselves, nor can we prepare for the impacts alone. Other SIDS, have also other natural disasters, such as Tsunamis, and climate events such as sea water rise. Impacts, which are unfortunately moving many of our countries closer towards a sustained level of poverty. Reports state this past hurricane season cost around $184 billion USD in damages, and this is only an initial estimate reflecting the impacts only of the three largest hurricanes – namely Harvey, Irma and Maria, and the season has another month to go as it ends in November.
Coupled with these disasters, we face numerous unfair financial arrangements that place us at a greater disadvantage in the global markets including illicit financial flows, unfair trade practices, taxation challenges, and more. Furthermore, we do not qualify for many concessional financing opportunities due to GDP per capita criteria that do not reflect the vulnerabilities and realities on the ground.
While statistics show that most SIDS are experiencing relatively high economic growth rates, upon closer examination much of this growth is volatile, and does not result in sustainable job creation. Rather, it is being driven by the exports of a limited number of commodities and low value-added products, leaving countries vulnerable to swings in global markets; essentially what occurred in commodity markets since the 2008 global financial crisis.
We need to ask ourselves, are these interrelated and overlapping challenges facing SIDS an indication of a new wave of poverty? We cannot let this wave overpower our nations and prevent us from pursuing sustainable futures for our peoples. In the end we are left with high indebtedness resulting from conditions beyond our control, whether they be external price and economic shocks, or climate change, or being barred from access to concessional financing, the odds are stacked heavily against us as we desperately try to not only meet our various international obligations but also to provide safe, productive and fruitful living conditions for our citizens.
Within this agenda item, the sub-items on women in development and human resources development, are all impacted in SIDS by this oncoming wave of poverty. All the gains around empowering women and girls are also set back when we face external shocks and crises and natural disasters; however, we remain firmly committed to advance gender equality and therefore as member states who suffer the most yet contribute the least to climate change; (1) We implore member states to meet their commitments under the Paris Agreement and to those who have not yet ratified or acceded, we urge your immediate engagement on this issue; (2) We urge international financial institutions to seriously evaluate their criteria for access to financing to consider standards beyond GDP per capita; (3) We urge the Secretary-General in his major reform of the UN system to ensure that the entities of this organization take into account the sensitivities of SIDS and our priorities which remain clearly outlined in the SAMOA Pathway, to ensure that this agreement is finally fully operationalized. Finally we call on all partners to meet their ODA commitments and to work closely with us to fund our priorities as set out by our national governments.
Thank you Mr Chair.