Press release

Cyclone-hit islands call for graduation out of LDC status to be postponed: Request at AOSIS meeting called for by President Michel

March 26, 2015

The Pacific island states of Vanuatu, Tuvalu and Kiribati hit by Cyclone Pam this month called on the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) today to back their requests to the UN to postpone their graduation out of Least Developed Country (LDC) status.

The appeal was made at the UN in New York following President James Michel’s call after the cyclone devastated Vanuatu for an emergency meeting of AOSIS to respond to the calamity.  The President at the same time pledged US$100,000 to Vanuatu.

The four Small Island Developing States (SIDS) hit by the cyclone are in fact the last remaining LDCs in the Pacific, but the fourth, the Solomon Islands, was not present at the AOSIS meeting.

Seychelles’ representative, climate change and SIDS ambassador Ronny Jumeau, reiterated the messages of sympathy and support from the people, government and President of Seychelles to not only the islands hit by Cyclone Pam, but fellow AOSIS member Singapore on the recent death of its founding father, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Mr Jumeau urged AOSIS to learn from the devastation wreaked by Cyclone Pam to strengthen the SIDS’ long-standing international call for funds for “loss and damage” in the climate change negotiations. He also reiterated President Michel’s call for a resilience and vulnerability index for small island countries “to address the inherent vulnerabilities of SIDS” in all aspects of their development.

Opening the meeting, AOSIS chair Ambassador Ahmed Sareer of Maldives said the international community was yet to fully understand that SIDS were uniquely vulnerable to such disasters in that when one occurred, it was not localized to the area it hit, but affected the entire country.

The meeting was to hear from Vanuatu and the other affected countries how best SIDS could help them and how to ensure the lessons from the tragedy were not lost.

Vanuatu’s Permanent Representative (PR) to the United Nations, Amb Odo Tevi, said that while 22 of its more than 80 islands where hit by the cyclone, 64% of the total population of 260,000 were affected, nearly a third of these children. Half the country’s population was in need of shelter and 42 percent were without clean drinking water. To date, food relief had reached 72% of the population.

The country’s development and economic prospects had been set back so much that Vanuatu was seeking the support of AOSIS members in requesting the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) delay its graduation from LDC to middle income status.

Kiribati’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Makurita Baaro, noted the AOSIS meeting was taking place while the ECOSOC committee responsible for overseeing the graduation of states was meeting and United Nations members were negotiating on the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Referring to the particular vulnerability of island countries to disasters, Amb. Baaro said “we can’t talk sustainable development without talking about the issue of climate change”, adding that both her country and Tuvalu were also seeking a postponement of their graduation.

Tuvalu PR Aunese Simati said that while his country tried to move people away from the coast in advance of the cyclone, there really wasn’t an “inland” to evacuate to on islands as small as his.  Even the remains of their ancestors had to be relocated as their tombs were swept away. Imagine the emotional turmoil in having to move not just the living, but the dead also, he said.