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The general debate focused on activities of the UN system in preparation for the Conference and consideration of plans and programmes to support the sustainable development of SIDS. Most of the government delegates, UN agencies and NGOs commented on the problems faced by SIDS and elements that should be included in the programme of action to be adopted by the Conference.

SIDS have unique vulnerabilities and limitations, explained Amb. Robert van Lierop in his opening statement on behalf of AOSIS. During the course of the general debate, a number of countries made specific references to these vulnerabilities. Physically, SIDS are small and often geographically remote. Some SIDS have dense populations, most have a narrow range of natural resources, and limited freshwater resources. The fragility of island ecosystems make coastal, solid waste and fisheries management high priorities. SIDS are vulnerable to the effects of global warming, particularly sea-level rise that poses a threat of potential loss of the entire territory of some islands. SIDS are also threatened by dumping at sea, nuclear testing in the Pacific, and natural disasters. A number of delegates, including Fiji, Mauritius, and Micronesia, mentioned that one of the consequences of natural disasters is the high cost of insurance, when available at all. St. Kitts and Nevis pointed out that up to 30 percent of national budgets are often absorbed by the need to respond to natural disasters. Tourism can also have negative effects on SIDS, including intensive activity in the coastal area. The fight against drug trafficking further constrains sustainable development, especially in the Caribbean. Among the economic problems and constraints, SIDS have small domestic markets and face difficulties in penetrating international markets, primarily due to transportation costs and limited access to the most recent technologies and means of production. Furthermore, the technology developed by industrialized countries is not always appropriate for SIDS and needs to be adapted.

Some of the human constraints to sustainable development of SIDS include the brain drain and migration of young people; inadequate training and educational opportunities; and high unemployment, especially among the young.

During the debate, Belgium, on behalf of the European Community, raised the point that SIDS benefit from higher levels of ODA than other developing countries and also contain a large number of expatriates who contribute their knowledge and expertise to the local economies. A number of representatives from SIDS pointed out, however, that ODA levels do not actually reflect the real situation, as SIDS incur higher costs per capita in providing routine services such as safe drinking water and electricity.

A number of delegates mentioned specific proposals or issues that should be included in the programme of action for the sustainable development of SIDS, which will be adopted in Barbados. The G-77 and AOSIS advocated the use of a triangular model, which would include national, regional and international initiatives. Several delegates stated that the Rio agreements must be turned into practical action-oriented programmes that benefit SIDS. Malta, Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda all mentioned the need to develop a vulnerability index to replace GNP per capita measurement. Other general issues raised include: the need to integrate sustainable development objectives in the development planning processes of SIDS; the need for new and additional financial resources and the transfer of environmentally sound technology as opposed to the need to maximize existing levels of assistance; the role of NGOs, women and other major groups in the implementation of this programme of action; and the need for international cooperation, including better performance by regional and international organizations. On this issue, it was also mentioned that the UN should establish the capacity and designate focal points to promote sustainable development in SIDS.

Delegates also pointed out a number of other more specific proposals during the general debate. The US and the Solomon Islands stressed the need for integrated coastal zone management. UNEP and China agreed that there is a need to improve data and information exchange. It was also suggested that the programme of action address communications, energy conservation, disposal of toxic and hazardous wastes, development of natural resources, development of marine resources, emergency preparedness, response to sea-level rise, tourism development, strengthening drug enforcement efforts; and land resources management. Other issues raised include health and population policies, the need for export diversification, development planning and capacity building.

Iceland stressed the need to include islands supporting small communities, not only small island developing States. Many of the islands in the Arctic suffer from the same problems as SIDS.

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