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Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands

Island Agenda 2004 +

1 Prologue

Sustainable development in small island developing states: taking stock, looking forward

Small island developing states (SIDS) face many challenges – some intrinsic and timeless, others extrinsic and new – arising from small land size, large exclusive economic zone, geographical dispersion, vulnerability to natural hazards and disasters, limited terrestrial natural resources, rich cultural resources and creativity, heavy dependence on imports, limited commodities, isolation from markets, tourism potentials and pressures, and many other characteristics and processes.

In September 2002 in Johannesburg, in reaffirming the special case for SIDS, the World Summit on Sustainable Development called for a full and comprehensive review of the SIDS Programme of Action adopted in Barbados in 1994. This review is being carried out under the aegis of the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) and the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), leading to an international meeting with high-level representation in Mauritius in January 2005 and follow-up implementation.

The world’s small island developing states are front-line zones where, in concentrated form, many of the main problems of environment and development are unfolding. As such, they are the big tests for the commitments made at the 1992 World Summit.
Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, at ‘Barbados +5’, September 1999.

Since the Barbados conference of 1994, there has been progress towards sustainable living and sustainable development in many small island countries. At the same time, new concerns have emerged and sharpened, as reflected in the debates and strategy documents associated with the lead-up to the Mauritius meeting.

In the 21st century, the agendas of peace and sustainable development will be inseparable.
Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO.

Building capacities, bridges and networks

UNESCO functions thanks to the synergy between diverse community actors that together form an international community. These communities include governments, National Commissions, Parliamentarians, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Associations. Among them are also found the media, schools, cultural and scientific institutions, private sector partners and the United Nations family of institutions. Together, they give life to UNESCO’s ideals and values around the world, at local, national and international levels.

In contributing towards a new vision and commitment for small islands, UNESCO’s own action will continue to be rooted in its fields of competence: culture, basic and natural sciences, social and human sciences, communication and education. The underlying challenge is that of building capacities, bridges and networks, in promoting problem-solving actions that mobilize key actors and constituencies, that generate effective momentum and impact, that are culturally sensitive and scientifically sound. Addressing this challenge calls for meaningful collaboration between societal and organizational sectors (intersectoral cooperation), between regions and between islands of different affiliations (interregional cooperation) and between generations (intergenerational cooperation).

Cooperation between sectors, disciplines, specialties and institutions. Many of the issues and challenges of sustainable development lie at the intersection of sectoral boundaries and institutional responsibilities. Whence the importance of pursuing innovative approaches for fostering interactions at the interfaces between societal/organizational sectors and academic disciplines. Also the need to place activities in a particular domain or institution within a broader institutional context, emphasizing partnership activities at the interface of two or more sectors or institutional responsibilities. 

This seeking of intersectoral connections and cooperation is somewhat analogous to the inter-relatedness between Water, Energy, Health, Agriculture, and Biodiversity - the five WEHAB thematic areas proposed by the UN Secretary-General as a contribution to the Johannesburg Summit on Sustainable Development. It is also consistent with the emphasis of the World Summit on Sustainable Development on developing innovative partnerships of various kinds.

Cooperation between regions and between islands of different affiliations. UNESCO’s work on small islands has a primary focus on small island developing states, and more particularly on those smaller states with limited land area and terrestrial resources. But attention is also given to small islands belonging to continental and archipelago countries, especially developing countries. 

Though there are important differences between islands in different oceanic regions and between islands having different geopolitical affiliations, there are also many shared problems and issues. As such, there is much to gain from the exchange of experience and knowledge between and among small islands in different regions and small islands of different affiliations.

Synergies between generations. Central to the concept of sustainable development is the notion of meeting the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to satisfy their own needs. The importance of encouraging links between generations is reflected in various initiatives to provide young people from small-island nations with opportunities to play their full part in discussions and actions on environment and development issues.

In today’s global environment, any worthwhile education is an education for uncertainty — preparing people who are flexible, adaptable, and multi-skilled.
Dame Pearlette Louisy, Governor Gen-eral, St Lucia (September 2004).

List of Small Island Developing States
Terrain Length of coastline 
Land area 
Cape Verde 414,294 rugged, rocky, volcanic 965 4,033
Comoros 651,901 volcanic islands 340 2,170
Mauritius 1,220,481 small coastal plain, central plateau 177 2,030
Sao Tome & Principe 181,565 volcanic, mountainous 209 1,001
Seychelles 80,832 narrow coastal strip, coral, flat 491 455
Asia and the Pacific
Bahraina 667,238   low desert plain, low central escarpment 161 665
Cook Islands 21,200   low coral atolls, volcanic, hilly 120 240
Fiji 880,874   mountainous of volcanic origin,coral atolls 1,129 18,270
Kiribati 100,798   low-lying coral atolls 1,143 811
Maldives 339,330   flat 644 300
Marshall Islands 57,738   low coral limestone and sand islands 370 181
Micronesia 108,155   low coral atolls, volcanic, mountainous 6,112 702
Nauru 12,809   sandy beach, coral reefs, phosphate plateau 30 21
Niue 2,156   limestone cliffs, central plateau 64 260
Palau 20,016   low coral islands, mountainous main island 1,519 458
Papua New Guinea 5,420,280   coastal lowlands, mountains 5,152 452,860
Samoa 177,714   narrow coastal plains, interior: mountains 403 2,934
Singapore 4,353,893   lowland, undulating central plateau 193 692
Solomon Islands 523,617   low coral atolls, rugged mountains 5,313 27,540
Timor-Leste 1,019,252   mountainous 706 15,007
Tokelaua, b 1,405   atolls 101 10
Tonga 110,237   coral formation, volcanic 419 718
Tuvalu 11,468   low-lying and narrow coral atolls 24 26
Vanuatu 202,609   narrow coastal plains, mountains of volcanic origin 2,528 12,200
Antigua & Barbuda 68,320   low-lying limestone and coral islands 153 443
Arubac 71,218   flat, some hills, scant vegetation 68 193
Bahamas 299,697   long, flat coral formations 3,542 10,070
Barbados 278,289   flat, central highland 97 431
Cuba 11,308,764   terraced plains, small hills, mountains 5,746 110,860
Dominica 69,278   rugged mountains of volcanic origin 148 754
Dominican Republica 8,833,634   rugged highlands and mountains 1,288 48,380
Grenada 89,357   volcanic in origin, central mountains 121 344
Haitid 7,656,166   rugged, mountainous 1,771 27,560
Jamaica 2,713,130   narrow coastal plains, mountains 1,022 10,831
Netherlands Antillesa, b 218,126   hilly, volcanic interiors 364 960
St Kitts & Nevis 38,836   volcanic, mountainous interiors 135 261
St Lucia 164,213   volcanic, mountainous with broad valleys 158 606
St Vincent & Grenadines 117,193   volcanic, mountainous 84 389
Trinidad & Tobago 1,096,585   flat, hilly, mountainous 362 5,128
US Virgin Islandsa,b 108,775   hilly, rugged, mountainous 188 349
Cyprus 775,927   plains, mountains 648 9,240
Malta 396,851   low, flat plains, coastal cliffs 140 316
a Not a member of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) 
(the Netherlands Antilles and US Virgin Islands are however observers).
b Non self-governing.
c Part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands: Full autonomy in internal affairs.
d Population estimates for Haiti explicitly take into account the effects of 
excess mortality due to AIDS.
Source: Adapted from www.un.org/esa/sustdev/sids/sidslist.htm (2 September 2004). Population data for July 2004 
and land area data from: CIA Factbook http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook  (2 September 2004).

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