Statement by Prime Minister Hon. Dr. Terrance Drew at the Fourth International Conference on SIDS (May 27, 2024)

My brother Prime Minister Hon. Gaston Brown, Distinguished Prime. Ministers and Presidents all, CARICOM Brothers and sisters, I greet you as we gather for this global engagement on the course that small island developing states must chart to attain prosperity.

And make no mistake, the path to prosperity is a virtual obstacle course, magnified by a world in turmoil, facing apocalyptic environmental conditions, war, scarcity, supply chain disruptions, a course of inherent risks, external shocks, capital constraints, high inflation and unemployment.

It reads like the script for a dystopian movie. Yet, the world’s most vulnerable micro-sates must navigate this landscape if they are to give their citizens a better quality of life and a sense of hope that is tangible in a world of growing uncertainty. That we have made it this far is a tribute to the resilience of island people everywhere.

What is now required is that we build resilience that will protect us from the external shocks which threaten to push SIDS to the precipice of collapse.

Let me suggest some critical elements on which the development and prosperity of SIDS hang:

Available, accessible, adequate capital. The cost of capital is too high for SIDS and our fiscal space is far too circumscribed. This is why the Bridgetown Initiative’s call for the reform of the international financial architecture is imperative this year, which marks the eightieth anniversary of the Bretton Woods Institutions. On this note, permit me to congratulate Prime Minister Brown for his work with the United Nations High-Level Panel on the Multidimensional Vulnerability Index in its effort to go beyond GDP as a measure of economic well-being.

Technology is creating a new global elite of those who use it for innovation, democratising government and commercial systems, to spur social equity and economic growth. I link technology to education and the need for young citizens of SIDS to master the technology that now defines and drives social and economic activity.

Resilient infrastructure, particularly in physical development, water, energy and climate-smart hospitals, is of utmost importance. Infrastructure is a cross-cutting issue. Many SIDS are water-scarce, yet they are tourism destinations. We are food importers and need to boost our agricultural sectors for food and nutrition security. The Caribbean is projected to face a 10-20% decline in crop yields by 2050, due to climate change. We cannot have resilient health systems without resilient food systems. This is why CARICOM’s 25×25 initiative is of such importance.

The climate crisis has wrapped its tentacles around CARICOM member states and unless we find the mix of policy, finance and adaptation measures to address the impacts of the climate crisis, our dreams of development and prosperity will come to naught.
Health and well-being are another lynchpin in the fight for prosperity. As CARICOM’s Lead Prime Minister on health issues, and as a physician, I cannot help but draw attention to the link between the climate crisis and a growing incidence of vector-borne diseases such as dengue and Lyme disease. It is also to be noted that extreme weather events delay or disrupt healthcare services resulting in poor treatment outcomes or death, as happened in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017.

The growing number and intensity of extreme weather events in all SIDS threaten our development trajectories. When this is added to the high burden of chronic non-communicable diseases and their sequelae, as the single largest cost and cause of morbidity and mortality in the Caribbean, the script is written for disaster. We already saw from COVID-19 how a health crisis can decimate our islands. Further, at a time of rising mental health challenges in the region, it is noteworthy that for the first time in the history of its reporting, the IPCC has included mental health impacts among the negative impacts caused by climate change.

Against this background, SIDS-SDIS, South-South and triangular cooperation on the major development challenges require our solidarity and action to safeguard the health and future of small island developing states and their people. We the children of the world’s nation-states, have come together in pursuit of prosperity for SIDS, we must not let it escape us.

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