NEW YORK 20 and 21 October 2020 – Island leaders expressed concern about the widespread impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on small island developing States (SIDS) in a joint roundtable organized by Belize, Fiji and the United Kingdom.
At the virtual meeting, island representatives called upon development partners to look beyond “one size fits all” solutions and to provide more tailor-made financial support to SIDS. They also reaffirmed the need for a collaborative effort between public, private creditors, International Financial Institutions as well SIDS in addressing the challenges posed by COVID-19 and climate change.
Speaking at the opening of the meeting, H.E. Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, emphasised the “importance of debt relief for vulnerable countries and the need to develop new flexible development finance instruments which will support responsible, resilient and inclusive growth.”
The meeting heard that SIDS are currently facing severe health, social, economic as well as environmental challenges, all exacerbated by COVID-19.
In her keynote address, UN Deputy Secretary-General and Chair of the UN Sustainable Development Group, Amina J. Mohammed said “It is time for the international community to help SIDS in meeting their challenges as they deserve the future that they want as we look for the future that we want.”
H.E. Baroness Sugg, UK Minister for Foreign Affairs and Development, reaffirmed that “an ongoing collaborative effort is needed which must be sustained even after COVID-19.”
Increased access to finance for SIDS was a key theme of the meeting and solutions put forward included additional grants, concessional loans with longer maturities, debt swaps, use of blended finance through increased public-private partnerships and the development of green and blue bond markets for SIDS.
Complex mechanisms and bureaucratic processes were identified as challenges for SIDS to access development finance from donors like the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and Adaptation Fund.
As one solution to this problem, a proposed Vulnerability Index was discussed, which would help codify the real-world vulnerabilities of SIDS and be used by bilateral and multilateral donors to assess SIDS’ eligibility for development finance.
SIDS noted the recent extension by the G-20 of the Debt Service Suspension Initiative and the Sovereign Debt Restructuring Trust Fund by the IMF as potentially helpful in pandemic recovery and progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. However, most SIDS are not actually eligible for the initiative.
United Nations High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, Ms. Fekitamoeloa Katoa Utoikamanu, said that
“This unprecedented perfect storm should be met with unprecedented cooperation and development funds. However, despite available evidence of the need for support for vulnerable states, the necessary commitments by development partners are insufficient, in particular for SIDS.”
She concluded, “We need to focus our common efforts on practical and impactful solutions to not only keep SIDS afloat but also for the successful implementation of the SAMOA pathway, the Paris agreement and the flourishment of SIDS and their citizens.”