Address by Hon Felix Finisterre at the 3rd World Water Forum
ADDRESS BY HON FELIX FINISTERRE
MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS, WORKS, TRANSPORT AND PUBLIC UTILITIES
OF SAINT LUCIA
TO THE SESSION ON WATER IN SMALL ISLANDS OF THE
3rd WORLD WATER FORUM
from the 16 – 22nd MARCH, 2003
Honourable Fielakepa - Minister for Lands, Surveys and Natural Resources of the Kingdom of Tonga; His Excellency Lionel Hurst - Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda to the OAS; Mr. Jeffrey Stubs of the Asian Development Bank; Mr. Alf Simpson - Executive Director of the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC); Mr. Vincent Sweeney, Executive Director of the Caribbean Environmental Health Institute (CEHI); Distinguished Facilitators, Panelists, Honored Invitees, Ladies and Gentlemen…
I bring you greetings and best wishes for a successful event from the Government of Saint Lucia and from my colleague Caribbean Ministers with responsibility for Water. It is truly a pleasure to be here in this scenic and historic city of Kyoto, for this critical session on Water in Small Islands. On behalf of the Caribbean delegation and on my own behalf, I wish to express my deepest gratitude to our kind and gracious hosts for the impeccable facilities that have been placed at our disposal.
I should also avail myself of this opportunity to commend the organizers and sponsors of this session on small islands. I am aware of the extensive North-South and South –South collaboration that has characterized preparations for this event. I am particularly pleased to note the strong, functional relationships that have emerged between SOPAC and CEHI. To my mind, this bodes well for the successful implementation of the proposed Joint Programme of Action on Water in Small Islands, which we hope to finalize during this session.
Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, participation in this session and its parent event – the Third World Forum – was for me a “second nature” decision, from a professional as well as from a personal standpoint. For, not only does water and climate form part of the portfolios of my Ministry, but for some time now, they have commanded my interest as an environmentalist.
The Characteristics of Smallness
Those among us who live and work in small islands, would be familiar with the numerous and varied challenges that confront us on a daily basis. In addition to the constraints of small land area, tiny populations, openness, income volatility and diseconomies of scale, we have had, over the past decade in particular, to deal with the daunting challenges posed by accelerated globalization and trade liberalization.
We are advised that these global forces will bring benefits, but only if we implement the necessary policies that will enable us to produce competitively - priced goods and services.
The logic is not supported by the experience. But even though our attempts might fail, we realize that we cannot fail to make all conscious attempts to become internationally competitive.
The Challenge of Adapting to Climate Variability and Climate Change
It is this same harsh reality that drives our response to the phenomena of Climate Variability and Global Climate Change. Here, we find that we can draw little, if any comfort from the fact that together, our small islands contribute less than 1% of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming and Climate Change. However, because the adaptive capacity of our human systems is generally low and vulnerability is high, our small countries are likely to be among the countries most seriously impacted by Global Climate Change.
The 2001 Report of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provides a very daunting assessment of the vulnerability and adaptive capacity of Small Island (Developing) States to Climate Change and Climate Variability.
A visit to any one of our islands, from Micronesia in the Pacific to Montserrat in the Caribbean, will immediately establish the fact that these islands are really coastal zones. In fact, Coastal Vulnerability Assessments undertaken in the Caribbean, as part of the highly successful Caribbean Planning for Adaptation to Climate Change Project - CPACC – supports several of the IPCC’s assertions.
In Guyana, the assessment found that agriculture, human settlements, infrastructure, fisheries and water resources were likely to be significantly affected by Sea Level Rise (SLR), due to erosion, inundation and salinization, forcing retreat up to 5km inland to avoid these consequences. The Assessment for Grenada found that a 1metre rise in SLR by 2100 will cause beaches at all sites to disappear as well as significant inundation of coastal infrastructure. For Barbados, tourism, human settlements and water supply were shown to be extremely susceptible to SLR. The entire south and south-west coasts of the island will be exposed to elevated water levels during a 1:100 year storm and extensive flooding of these areas is expected.
But wile the full impacts of Global Climate Change are nestled in the future, the impacts of Climate Variability have been with us for some time. Few will dispute the fact that over the past decade the climate in the Caribbean and the Pacific regions has become more variable with an accompanying increase in extreme weather events. We have had to deal with the economic, social and environmental impacts of floods and droughts, hurricanes and cyclones. One example of the disastrous impacts of these extreme weather events that is frequently cited, is the Port Zante Cruise Ship Berth in Saint Kitts and Nevis, which was repeatedly and totally destroyed by stormy seas for three years in succession.
During 1995, Hurricanes Marilyn and Luis and Tropical Storm Iris caused the rate of GDP growth in the member states of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) to drop from 3% to 0.7%. In addition, declines were registered in the growth of investment and private consumption, and the current account of the balance of payments worsened. But the pace of recovery was affected mainly because of the thinness of the insurance market for catastrophic risk in the Caribbean.
These findings are consistent with those of the IPCC, which anticipates that Climate Change and changes in weather-related events perceived to be linked to Climate Change would increase actuarial uncertainty in risk assessments, place upward pressure on insurance premiums and/or lead to certain risks being reclassified as uninsurable, with subsequent withdrawal of coverage.
The Water Resources Management Challenge
Of particular interest to those among us with a vested interest in water resources management, is the IPCC’s finding that islands with very limited water supplies are highly vulnerable to the impacts of Climate Change on the water balance, with the greatest vulnerabilities likely to be in unmanaged water systems and systems that are currently stressed or poorly and unsustainably managed.
Several studies have confirmed that the water resources management in small islands is generally unsatisfactory, with few structures in place to buffer the effects of hydrologic variability on water quality and supply that global Climate Change can bring. The IPCC has recommended that Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) techniques can be applied to adapt to the hydrologic effects of Climate Change.
A significant enhancement of the policy, legal, institutional and research arrangements is therefore required to enable SIDS to take full account of and to respond in a timely and effective manner, to the vagaries of Climate Change and Climate Variability. Given the current state of play, the cost of implementing these changes will be high. But the cost of inaction will undoubtedly be higher.
One of the main challenges will be investing in capacity development for Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM). This will require sustained and concerted action and dialogue among all stakeholders and among all small island states, especially those within the Alliance of Small Island States.
The Government of Saint Lucia has embarked on an extensive reform process that aims to institutionalize IWRM policies, principles, practices and techniques. The design of a National Water Policy and Strategy has recently been completed and attention is now being focused on the establishment of the appropriate regulatory and resource management frameworks. Several other Governments in the Caribbean and Pacific have adopted this approach.
The Benefits of Regionalism
But all of the available evidence confirms that the intra-regional and inter-regional approach will yield faster and more sustainable results. Fortunately for us, a solid base exists both in the Caribbean and in the Pacific that can swiftly be built upon. The combined capacity of institutions like CEHI, the Caribbean Water and Waste Water Association (CWWA), SOPAC and the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), is significant. The networking that was formalized during the Dialogue on Water and Climate and which reached its zenith with today’s session, bears testimony to the considerable scope for inter-regional collaboration which exists. I am advised that the Caribbean can learn a great deal about climate forecasting and hydrological modeling from its counterparts in the Pacific.
Likewise the Pacific should be able to benefit from the work of the recently established Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC). The Centre will provide an additional platform dedicated to undertaking sustained investigation of Climate Change and Climate Variability phenomena and related issues and mainstreaming its findings within the broad development policy and planning framework of small island states.
Honourable Ministers, Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, the experience gained thus far at this important event has exceeded all of my expectations. The Government of Saint Lucia eagerly looks forward to lending its support for the implementation of the Joint Programme of Action and to actively participate in any other venture that will assist our respective regions in overcoming the myriad challenges posed by Climate Variability and Climate Change.
I Thank You.
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