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SIDS wrap in Samoa: It really is a matter of life and death

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Facing the future … the SIDS conference in Apia, Samoa, this week. Image: SIDSlive.com

Pacific Scoop:
Comment – By Mata’afa Keni Lesa

The urgency with which a number of challenges the small island developing states are confronted with means only one thing. That is the third Small Island Developing States (SIDS) conference, which has just ended in Samoa, cannot be treated as business as usual.

While it’s easy to get lost and become totally overwhelmed by the emotions and magnitude of the issues and the personalities who have been to Samoa to talk about them, the reality of life for small island states must never be forgotten.

It’s quite scary in fact. Our islands are slowly but surely sinking. Coastal erosion and sea level rise are becoming more menacing with each single day so that countless families have had to relocate or risk being swept out to sea.

It’s not just Tuvalu that’s sinking. Here in Samoa, families at Luatuanu’u and Saoluafata live to tell you their stories.

Our marine resources we so desperately need for survival have seriously been depleted. That is because we have been robbed of our fisheries resources by bigger countries who are greedy and inconsiderate.

Although there are international treaties to protect our ocean zones, our smallness means we do not have the capacity to police these zones. So greedy fishing companies supported by the world’s biggest economies continue to pillage our resources while we look on.

That’s not all. With limited resources and finances, we’ve had to loan so much that now many small nations face the threat of defaulting. Our leaders are pulling out all sorts of cards, including the worrying sale of land and birthrights simply to please the mighty and powerful. And with that possibility, the future of our children is indeed extremely worrying.

Reminded of reality
Now, throughout the past few days, world leaders and delegates attending the conference have constantly been reminded of this reality through one country statement after another.

Certainly, in this newspaper during the past few weeks, we’ve dedicated countless pages to highlight this plight. We’ve done this because we know for sure that for those of us living in these small island states, the world cannot continue to treat these issues as business as usual.

This is our reality, a matter of survival.

The fact is, if the world were perfect, with no challenges requiring a collective global effort to address them, S.I.D.S wouldn’t have existed. The meeting that’s just been hosted by Samoa would never have happened, which means all those thousands of people might have never seen what Samoa looks like.

The reality, however, is that we live in a world full of problems and that’s what we’ve been once again reminded about this week. From the CARICOM region to the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, the challenges are plenty and enormous, far too big for individual small island states to handle.

The most disheartening aspect about the majority of these challenges is that a number of them are not our fault. Global warming for example is the result of the actions of the world’s biggest nations who don’t appear to care at all.

These challenges are not new though.

Making promises
And for many years, the world leaders – including a high number who are in Samoa this week – have been talking and making promises that have amounted to very little action.

There has been one meeting after another, costing millions and continuing to pollute the very environment we are trying to save.

The irony is that as these meetings get bigger and bigger with more funding and promises being pledged to tackle one challenge after another, the problems are not getting any smaller either. They have deteriorated over the years so that you really have to wonder what the point really is.

This is the third SIDS conference. Three decades ago, the idea was born out of the need to tackle the challenges confronted by SIDS. The question today is, has life for people living in these SIDS become better since or has it deteriorated? What is the progress made so far and how can we measure it?

Without being too harsh on the efforts being made by the international community, we agree that we shouldn’t deride talking. It is after all a better option than not talking.

But what happens when we only talk for the sake of talking? What happens when these talks merely become a matter of formality? Who would be accountable to our children and their children’s children when their future is ruined simply because the SIDS held in Samoa was merely a talkfest held just for the sake of talking?

Today, the hundreds of delegates who have enjoyed Samoa for the past few days are making their way back home.

Memorable visit
We hope we have been generous hosts making your stay a memorable one. Do come back to visit us.

Don’t be surprised though if you return and find that our land masses are a bit smaller with the airport needing a drastic shift so that your aircraft could land.

Some of our island brothers and sisters might not have any land left at all. In the words of the Laughing Samoans at the SIDS Village yesterday evening, “we might have to wear goggles simply so we can find them.”

That’s our reality. And if you try to understand what we are saying, it really is a matter of life and death. God bless!

Mata’afa Keni is editor of the Samoa Observer. This opinion piece has been republished from a Observer editorial.