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Visit to St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, Grenada

21st September 2011 by , | No Comments

Andrew Needs meets with the Red Cross in St Vincent and the Grenadines following NZ funding for a "Safer Roofs" Project.

With web access to so much material these days, you can prep up pretty well before arriving in a new country.  But the reality is that Wikipedia doesn’t give you the humidity count, the traffic noise, the afternoon downpour and thunderstorm or the ride into town from the airport that can often be so illuminating. These islands are the three southern-most of the sub-regional grouping known as the OECS, the Organisation for Eastern Caribbean States.  I spent a day in each of these small island states last week.  While these are the genuinely small states of the Caribbean (they are generally less than a tenth the size of Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and even smaller compared to Haiti or Cuba), they are in many ways ready reference points when comparing the Caribbean and the Pacific.  St Lucia’s population is around 160,000; Grenada’s 110,000 and St Vincent and the Grenadines’ 104,000.   With the exception of Papua New Guinea, a relative mega state at around 7 million, most Pacific islands are of a comparable scale to the OECS members I visited (eg Tonga 100,000; Vanuatu 224,000; Western Samoa 180,000; Kiribati 100,000).
The conversations I had during my visits around the challenges of small island developing states also resonated strongly with me and my personal experiences of two previous assignments in the Pacific.  While those assignments (Cook Island 1991-93 and Fiji 1995-97) are getting on for a generation ago now, the reality is that many of the key developmental challenges don’t change that quickly.  On the domestic policy front, education, youth unemployment and job creation were central in conversations I had with Ministers and senior officials.  This issue then flowed into how agriculture, tourism and resource extraction could play a role in addressing those key social challenges.   On global issues, I wasn’t surprised to find that climate change was the dominant concern.  All of this felt very familiar when compared to the Pacific, including climate change concerns.  Although the primary impacts are not identical.  While both regions are facing the threats of changing and more severe weather patterns, it is the small and low-lying states of the Pacific where sea level rise poses the most devastating and existential threat.
It is around these challenges and the common cause in addressing these where the Caribbean and Pacific can do more together, both with regard to policy and practical measures but also collective engagement in the multilateral sphere, including the Commonwealth, and in the United Nations, where much of the global response to, for example, climate change, is being brokered.

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