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Small Island States Call for Early Warning System to Avoid Losses from Future Disasters

Port Louis, Mauritius, January 13th — Small Island Developing States made an urgent plea to the international community to help protect some of the most at-risk populations against future disasters by setting up a tsunami early warning system for the Indian Ocean by June 2006 and a global system a year later, at the opening of a United Nations conference focusing on the vulnerability of these island nations to natural disasters.

According to the UN, the estimated cost of the Indian Ocean mechanism would be US$30 million (not including maintenance), a far cry from the billions in damage caused by last month's Asian tsunami disaster, and a worthwhile investment to avoid the massive human loss suffered by the affected countries.

Watch an interview with Olga Jonas, World Bank Economic Adviser

Island nations, already disproportionately in danger of hurricanes and tsunamis, also face development hurdles caused by isolation from global markets, high costs for energy, transportation and waste disposal, and the spread of HIV/AIDS. 

In addition, it is the poor in these countries who are most vulnerable to the effects of tsunamis, because the poor are the most likely to occupy dangerous, less desirable locations, such as flood plains, river banks, steep slopes and reclaimed land.  In recent years, 95 percent of the deaths caused by natural disasters have occurred in developing countries.
 
The devastation recently caused by the tsunami in 12 countries in Southeast Asia draws attention to the vulnerability of small island nations to natural disasters caused by climate variability and rising sea levels, the result of human induced climate change as well as the erosion of coastal areas. The total population of the Small Island Developing States is 50 million. 

In the Maldives, a cluster of 1,192 islands in the Indian Ocean where the official death toll from the tsunami disaster has so far reached 82 people, the World Bank has already approved US$2 million for immediate rehabilitation needs.  A successful reconstruction effort will depend on effective coordination of the assistance provided by international community.

According to Ian Goldin, World Bank Vice President for External Affairs, Communications and United Nations Affairs,  "It is critical that small island states continue to build resilience into their economies-- whether to natural disasters, climate change or negative shocks such as the loss of trade preferences-- and get support from the international community.  The Bank is committed to working with small island states and has already disbursed US$1.4 billion in the last 10 years."

The aid delivered by donors to small island developing states amounted to US$178 per capita per year in 2001-2002. 

The World Bank is also providing reconstruction assistance in other regions in which small island nations have been affected by natural disasters: in the Caribbean after the devastation caused by Hurricane Ivan in 2004; in the Polynesian island of Tonga as a result of 2002 Cyclone Waka; and in the South Pacific island of Samoa where Cyclone Heta struck last year. Other projects in Samoa and Kiribati are designed to adapt the islands infrastructure to rising sea levels caused by climate change.

For small islands, loss of trade preferences has had severe consequences. At the UN conference, these island states are demanding a differentiated and favorable treatment for their exports to compensate for the high, sometimes exorbitant economic costs resulting from their remoteness and smallness.  The small island states also wish to benefit from greater market access for their products and to gain a stronger say in multilateral trade negotiations to compensate for their inherent disadvantages in attracting investment.

Olga Jonas, World Bank Economic Adviser said, "This meeting has big stakes for both the small islands and the international community.  Small islands face a huge challenge to integrate more fully into the world economy and they can't do it alone.  This meeting gives them a chance to communicate their priorities and develop a plan of action."

Better and more affordable access to the Internet has become a key factor in the drive to connect island communities among themselves and to the rest of the world.  Since small islands are dispersed and face limited natural resources and high transportation costs, information and communications technology offers new opportunities, especially in areas such as e-governance, tele-medicine, and distance learning.

Unmet energy needs remain a major source of economic stress for many islands, due to their heavy dependence on imported oil, especially for local transport and electricity generated by thermal plants.

Representatives from more than 100 countries including 40 island nations are participating in the UN conference which is expected to generate solutions to help small island states tackle their socioeconomic development problems. 

Since 1980, the World Bank has financed 550 disaster-related projects worth US$40 billion.

For more information on the conference go to:
http://www.un.org/smallislands2005/

 




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