Dominica calls on the international community to do more to help SIDS.


ROSEAU, Dominica, CMC – Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit Wednesday said the extreme vulnerability of Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to climate change impacts and external shocks continues to set back the pace of their development, also noting the need to prioritize critical areas of development and to take more decisive action to bring meaningful change.

Addressing the United Nations Development Partners Coordinating meeting here, Skerrit called for the development of strategies and interventions which do the greatest good for the most significant number of people in the shortest possible time.

“Our small size and population, narrow asset base, and limited resources as well as limited borrowing ability; are just some of the more persistent challenges which constrain our development,” he said, adding, “we understand the value of our existing partnerships and the imperative to develop appropriate measures to diversify our economic base.”

But he said as a people familiar with the devastating effects of severe weather events and the resulting social and economic fallout, “we also know that decisive and meaningful action is necessary to build resilience and protect the lives and livelihoods of our people.

“Our countries face the burden of high debt, primarily due to the cycle of continuously responding to climate-related disaster events and external economic disruptions, over which we have little control.”

He told the meeting that examining the SIDS debt profile would show that 98 percent of their borrowing was to respond to natural disasters and external shocks.

He said his administration had been a responsible one needing to “do what we had to do to provide for our families and our people after natural disasters and external shocks.

He said had it not been for these natural disasters and external shocks, he believes “and I can say safely, that our debt to GDP ratio would be below 40 percent because we were on our marks to achieving this, but for the natural disasters….”

Skerrit said that over the past three years, the recovery efforts and development prospects had been hampered by a global pandemic, severely impacting people’s health and livelihoods, compromised food systems, employment prospects, and economic growth outlook.

“We, like many other Caribbean states, suffered significant loss of tourism revenue and were forced to redirect finances to manage the health crisis. This meant the reduced capacity to invest in infrastructure, agriculture, education, and social safety net programs.

He said the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war threatens small countries’ economic fortunes “as higher energy, food prices, and trade disruptions are stretching our already stressed economies.

“We are, in short, operating in a tumultuous period, defined by huge environmental and climate-related challenges, conflict, and economic uncertainty,” Skerrit said, adding, “these sobering realities of our times require urgent action.

“No longer can we afford to pay lip service to climate change issues or the restrictive access to development financing. We have country-specific work plans, which will help us to build resilience to climate change, promote the wellbeing of all citizens, and put us on a path to economic growth and development.”

He said the meeting here provides cause for optimism as it is intended to devise ways to tackle common problems together.

“What recommendations can you make, acting individually and jointly, to secure assistance to countries like Dominica, with greater speed, and at the levels needed to combat the effects of natural disasters and address the fallout from frequent economic shocks?” he said, highlighting a few areas that need collective attention.

Skerrit said he has spoken of the urgent need for SIDS to access better external financial support to address our most pressing social and economic challenges.

“The funds are available in foreign banks and institutions for draw-down, but the existing structures can be complex and inefficient. It means our assistance is not always timely and insufficient in effecting wide-ranging, positive change.”

He said while the rules have been suspended to support Ukraine, “they were not suspended for Dominica when the war created by climate change was unleashed upon us in Dominica. “And we agree and support suspending the rules for Ukraine because they need the support. We are saying that the rules can be changed, and we’re urging the development partners to change the rules so that small island states like ours can have equal access, quicker access, and more efficient access.”

He said that Dominica is placing great hope in the Barbados initiative, which has explained in great detail how the process can be arrived at and concluded to our benefit.

“Because I don’t think we need more money pledged. If we can access the monies we pledged, the world would be a much better place and greater prosperity for all of us.”

As the Barbados plan is being called, the Bridgetown Initiative has been compared to the Marshall Plan of 1948, when the United States provided more than US$13 billion of foreign aid to help Western Europe recover after World War II.

The Barbados Initiative outlines three critical steps, including changing terms around how funding is loaned and repaid. The aim is to stop developing countries from spiraling into a debt crisis when successive disasters like floods, droughts, and storms force their borrowing.

Skerrit said that the Green Climate Fund, developed specifically to assist developing countries in adapting and improving practices to counter climate change impacts, needs to be more easily accessible.

“The procedures for access need to be simplified and unwieldy for small states. Recognizing that the threat of climate change is ever present, we need to expedite access to available funds now, not later.

“We recognize the need to reduce our dependence on food imports and develop our capacity to supply the needs of our people and enhance our food security and agriculture systems. And this is why we have set ourselves a very ambitious goal of allowing agriculture to contribute EC700 million dollars to our GDP by 2030,” Skerrit said, acknowledging “this is a very lofty goal.”

But he said to achieve this. There is a need to facilitate the development of agribusinesses and strengthen value chains through technology, financial innovation, diversification, and entrepreneurship.

“Collectively, we may need to consider more targeted investments in regional manufacturing and processing facilities and, importantly, the development of maritime transport to move our produce around the region. This we have discussed at the CARICOM heads level. But I call on all of you here to place this regional food security and agriculture development matter on your agenda for possible financing support.”

Skerrit said SIDS continues to require external support in the form of investments in technology, technical skills, and knowledge to drive the modernization of our systems.

“We are pushing digitization and digital connectivity to support telework, e-commerce platforms, and financial services. And we have partnered on retooling some of our young people for the gig economy,” he said, adding, “this is an area where we can work together to continue to empower our people, especially our youth, to be full participants in the global economy.”

He said the social safety net programs align with the stated objective of many of the development partner institutions- to leave no one behind.

“Across Dominica, we are cushioning vulnerable families-our elderly, women, and children- from the impact of natural disasters and other crises. Through our various interventions- The Yes We Care Programme, National Employment Programme, Income and Pension support for seniors, and resilient housing- we are reducing poverty and providing a respectable and dignified quality of life for our citizens.

“We will always need support to deliver benefits and services in a timely and efficient manner to our vulnerable citizens. Thank you for the assistance we have received for these initiatives thus far, and we look forward to further cooperation to reduce the social and economic risk to our citizens.”

He said Dominica was also continuing to seek support for developing its energy sector. He added, “I do not doubt that Dominica can be used as a case study with our concrete actions on building a resilient nation.

“How could a small country like ours, affected by a tropical storm in 2015, which involved 90 percent of our GDP…two years later, a most devastating hurricane, causing damage totaling 226 percent of our GDP, and two years later, an unrelenting COVID pandemic.

“And, of course, now the Russia-Ukraine war. And our country is still standing and smiling with a sense of pride and dignity. But we have also achieved these objectives with your support….”


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