Climate and economic crises taking heavy toll on Caribbean, leaders tell UN

26 September 2009

While climate change and the global economic crisis are a challenge for all, they are particularly difficult for the small, island nations of the Caribbean, several leaders from the region told the United Nations General Assembly today.

“It is a fact that when global crises occur small vulnerable economies tend to pay a disproportionately high price,” Prime Minister Denzil L. Douglas of Saint Kitts and Nevis said, as he addressed the Assembly’s annual high-level debate.

He pointed out that, in the case of the economic crisis, the circumstances which precipitated the virtual collapse of several financial institutions were not created by small States such as Saint Kitts and Nevis – the smallest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

“Yet, as in the case of climate change, their consequences are forced upon us and we are left to fend for ourselves.”

Despite the recent downturn, small economies like his continue to display resilience and make the necessary sacrifices to sustain themselves, he said.

Saint Kitts and Nevis is investing in its people through education and retraining, and working to attract international investments in critical sectors to generate employment and other business opportunities. “By doing this, we hope to prepare for the future when the global economy eventually rebounds,” said the Prime Minister.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today reaffirmed the UN’s commitment to working with the region, which has been “especially hard-hit” by both the global financial crisis and climate change.

“I am well aware of the heavy toll the global economic crisis is taking on your countries,” he told leaders gathered for a mini-summit on the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). “Oil prices are high, remittances are down, tourism is severely depressed and foreign direct investment has slowed.

“There is talk of recovery – but the impact of the crisis could reverberate for years. Your economies are more fragile than many others,” he said.

The Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Patrick Manning, also highlighted the vulnerabilities of small economies in his address to the Assembly’s debate.

“We of the smaller countries and the developing world have always been the most vulnerable and the worst affected,” he said. “It is happening again… especially in the Southern Hemisphere, the prospects have grown for increase in poverty, unemployment and general slippage in the development process.”

Like many others in the debate, Mr. Manning said that the crisis has made clear the urgent need to reform the global economic system.

“We clearly cannot take our eye off the ball. We must not return to business as usual… We must be very wary of the level of adventurousness in leading financial institutions, which contributed very significantly to driving the world to the edge of an economic precipice, from which we are just starting to pull back.

“We must now capitalize on the opportunity of this crisis and, without delay, reform our international economic system,” he stated, adding that the global architecture must be transformed to take into account the new realities.

Kenneth Baugh, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Jamaica, noted that the consequences of the economic crisis – plunging inflows of financing and investment, weak exports, low commodity prices and diminished aid – are reflected in his country and throughout the CARICOM region.

“Countries like ours now face the daunting challenge of protecting the most vulnerable of their citizens in a responsible and sustainable manner in the context of declining export demand, contraction in services, including tourism, and lower remittances,” he stated.

He added that for the majority of developing countries, the impact of the crisis “will be deep, it will be prolonged and it will be painful.”


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