Tuvalu: Cyclone Pam shows we are still ‘least developed’

Pacific nation is vulnerable to climate disaster and should not lose “least developed country” status, ambassador argues

Vanuatu was hardest hit by Cyclone Pam, but Tuvalu also suffered sever flooding (Pic: UNICEF)

Vanuatu was hardest hit by Cyclone Pam, but Tuvalu also suffered sever flooding (Pic: UNICEF)

By Megan Darby

Tuvalu should still be considered one of the world’s “least developed countries” despite rising wealth, its UN ambassador is arguing in the wake of Cyclone Pam.

Aunese Makoi Simati wrote to the UN’s economic and social council (Ecosoc), asking for the low-lying Pacific island state’s vulnerability to climate disaster to be taken into account.

Even though Tuvalu was not at the centre of the category five storm, many of its outer islands suffered severe flooding, affecting some 45% of the population.

Homes and crops were washed away, raising fears of food shortages.

“This is the very kind of vulnerability that Tuvalu have consistently requested… Ecosoc members to take into serious consideration when they assess Tuvalu’s graduation from the list of the least developed countries (LDCs),” Simati wrote.

“Even with the eye of the storm centred in Vanuatu, it takes only the periphery of Cyclone Pam to destroy developments which have taken many years to establish in Tuvalu; thus further reaffirming our high vulnerabilities as a small low lying atoll country, to natural disaster and the inadvertent forces of nature.”

Countries are classed as “least developed” if they are disadvantaged in three areas: wealth, “human assets” (literacy and healthcare rates), and economic vulnerability to shocks.

The classification brings preferential treatment in areas like development assistance and trade agreements.

Tuvalu is arguing that its vulnerability outweighs any other development gains.

The Maldives and Samoa, two island states similarly under threat from rising sea levels, have already graduated, while Vanuatu is in transition.

Simati restated his case following an emergency meeting of the alliance of small island states (AOSIS) to discuss Vanuatu’s recovery from Cyclone Pan.

Island leaders met in New York to express solidarity with Vanuatu and call on the international community to send aid.

Odo Tevi, Vanuatu’s UN ambassador, reported that a third of the 250,000 population were in need of shelter and others lacked food and clean water. Food sources had been damaged across the archipelago.

“Disasters drive home the point, in a very real way, that small island developing states (SIDS) are affected by disasters very differently than other countries,” said Ahmed Sareer, Maldives ambassador to the UN and chair of AOSIS.

“Disasters in SIDS are not localised to the point where it strikes, our whole country is affected.

“Developmental gains achieved over many years, through tremendous effort and investment, are lost within minutes. Livelihoods destroyed. Lives host.

“And this is made more alarming by reports that indicate that up to 70% of disasters may now be climate-related, and that human induced climate change has resulted in an increase in intensity and frequency of disasters.”

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