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By Maria Helena Semedo
The unprecedented intensity and frequency of extreme climate events these past months is a painful reminder of the particular vulnerability of small islands. The Caribbean, thrashed by successive extreme-force hurricanes, is only now beginning to measure the immediate damage, not to mention the precious loss of life and livelihoods.
Small Island Developing States (SIDS) – as they are called – often bear the brunt of these disasters. This distinct group of countries share unique and particular vulnerabilities and needs. Their limited land mass and fragile natural environments make island populations especially susceptible to the impacts of climate change. Climate change also affects the fragile aquatic ecosystems of most of the islands, resulting in substantial negative impacts on fish resources and marine biodiversity. As well, environmental management and food production are closely interlinked in SIDS. Often geographically remote, far from global markets and with limited arable land and economic sectors, many depend on imported foodstuffs, making food security and nutrition priority concerns.
Today the majority of SIDS face the multiple burden of malnutrition where undernourishment, micronutrient deficiency and obesity coexist within the same country, same communities, and even the same households.
The recent launch of the State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World revealed that obesity in on rise across the world and particularly in SIDS, where there is high prevalence in childhood overweight and obesity. And in some Pacific islands 50 percent of the population is obese, an alarming figure coupled with the rampant rise of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and heart conditions. And yet, on the other hand, anaemia in women and children, as well as stunting and wasting, are also rising public health issue in most SIDS. The Pacific is the only region where stunting and wasting has gone up by 40% in the last 5 years. The investment needed to cover these costs is investment deviated from development, jeopardizing the strong potential for growth and prosperity for 65 million people.
Bridging the food & nutrition gap
Being from Cabo Verde, a beautiful 10-island nation on a volcanic archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa, I know all these challenges first-hand. Our extremely arid climate prone to prolonged droughts and reduced capacity to produce food means that we mostly import what we consume.
We must reverse the disastrous trends to bridge the food and nutrition gap. But the complexity and magnitude to do so is daunting and calls for closer international cooperation and a more harmonised approach.
Last July, SIDS leaders launched the GAP – the Global Action Programme on Food Security and Nutrition in Small Island States - a framework for accelerated and coordinated efforts involving all players for achieving long-term food security and nutrition with sustainable development.
As the 22 Pacific SIDS gather in Vanuatu for the first-ever Pacific Week of Agriculture, reaffirming regional connections with their natural resources, culture and livelihoods, the oceans is the core driver for a collective vision. The large marine environment, when sustainably managed, offers great prospects for development and economic growth. The blue economy can serve up opportunities to create innovative mechanisms such as blue bonds, which will be used for instance to finance the transition to the sustainable management of small scale artisanal fishery, including measures aimed at rebuilding fish stocks, harvest control measures, restructuring of fishing capacity.
It is now up to both countries and development partners to step up to the plate and take bold decisions to empower local communities and take advantage of new market opportunities. Putting the GAP into action will provide the political momentum needed for more effective decision-making at all levels and across regions.
It will promote local food systems that deliver healthier land-and ocean-based diets and will give consumers better access to affordable, healthy and nutritious food, reducing dependence on poor quality, processed imported foods - with the added benefit of creating livelihoods and jobs. At the same time, actions must also promote climate-adaptation and build the resilience of agriculture and fisheries sectors, strengthening the ability of SIDS to be stewards of their resources as large ocean states.
In November, under the Presidency of the small island of Fiji, the 23rd Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will be held in Bonn, Germany. This will be a key opportunity to emphasise that SIDS are among the most vulnerable to climate change impacts – a situation that will become critical if no appropriate action is taken - and to engage the international community and recognize that the GAP is everyone’s business. The GAP can truly help SIDS deal with the challenges they face to end malnutrition, attain food security and achieve sustainable development in a changing climate.
Maria Helena Semedo is the Deputy Director-General, Climate and Natural Resources Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations
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