Most of the Duke delegation has been working with Islands First while in Durban. This organization, based in New York, works on capacity building for Pacific Small Island Developing States, or PSIDS. This involves policy work, research, legalities, representation at negotiations—you name it. The fearless leader of Islands First, Mark Jariabka, has been an amazing delegator and excellent resource. Each of us feels that we’ve not only learned a significant amount about the issues at hand while working for Islands First, but also gotten plenty of practice in quick research and production… not to mention a much better understanding of the extensive legal jargon that surrounds negotiations. Over the course of the two weeks, we’ve helped compare LCA positions to AOSIS positions, produced memos on most plenaries, researched and created charts of various organizations and how they function, to be used in negotiating, and a slew of other tasks that
kept us busy and informed while at the ICC. As our time in Durban began winding down, one final project dropped into our unsuspecting laps…
Years ago, before Islands First was prominently established, the Pacific small island developing state of Tuvalu came to the IF Executive Director, Mark, and requested assistance. Tuvalu had been slotted to graduate from LDC status, and the island was not yet ready for the transition. Thus began the Islands First ethic to provide assistance to PSIDS in need.
Now, three years later, Tuvalu is facing the same threat. This time around, they also have the support of students from Lewis & Clark, Yale, UCLA and, of course, Duke, working under the guidance of Islands First.
This week, we were tasked to compile a report, to contribute to the United Nations, showing that Tuvalu was not yet ready to abandon its LDC status. A country’s LDC status is contingent upon three main factors:
- GDP & GNI: essentially how much money said country makes.
- Social Assets: including infant mortality rates, undernourishment rates, literacy, prevalence of non-communicable diseases, etc.
- Economic Vulnerability: can the country sustain itself without international aid?
What is important to note is that a country graduating from LDC status is faced with the daunting task of completely altering how it functions. Tuvalu is very much dependent on international aid, and it should be duly noted that they’re well governed and have put their foreign aid to good use, leading to improvements in their human development indicators, or section 2 of the LDC status criteria. It’s a tiny island with approximately 11,000 people, little industry, and zero exports. While the island experienced an economic boost in the early days of the internet, by capitalizing on a “.TV” domain, they remain in need today, as the “boost” was exactly that—an isolated spike in their economic structure. Needless to say, Tuvalu still needs international assistance and thus ought to remain an LDC. However, this is not for us to decide…
The CDP, Committee for Development Policy, executes a study of each LDC up for graduation. They look at the three factors above and create an index weighing each section and then comparing it to the established threshold levels that decide on a country’s LDC status. If a country exceeds two of the three thresholds, they are to graduate.
Now to the meat of things…
Duke, Yale and Lewis & Clark students worked diligently to compile a thorough and convincing report in support of Tuvalu’s LDC status. We researched environmental vulnerabilities, economic vulnerabilities, recent natural disasters, LDC status factors, Tuvalu’s debt load and the most recent CDP analysis to see if Tuvalu did, indeed, still qualify for LDC status. After hours of researching, writing and calculating, we produced a 19 page report, which, frankly, kicks ass.
We were able to show how the CDP report was extremely limited in scope. It did not reflect a number of issues prevalent to Tuvalu’s status as an LDC, such as the recent drought and the damage it caused, Tuvalu’s extreme environmental vulnerability to climate change in the short-term and long-term, the high occurrence of non-communicable diseases on Tuvalu and how their frequency severely affects economic growth, and how their economic capabilities are scarce. Tuvalu is a remote island with barely any industry and no exports. Relying on international imports is not indicative of being ready for graduation. Having 100% of one’s population live in low elevation coastal zones is not indicative of being ready for graduation. Being a part of the Pacific region where 75% of natural deaths are due to non-communicable disease is not indicative of being ready for graduation.
Catch my drift?
In short- Tuvalu is still vulnerable. They have made strides in development, but their incremental progress is not indicative of a stable economy that can sustain itself internally. The CDP Index could, and should, reflect all possible measures of vulnerability in its decisions. With our report submitted, we can only wait and see what the outcome will be. It’s our hope that the CDP will acknowledge the various other characteristics of Tuvalu not mentioned in the CDP index, as they heavily influence the country’s ability to grow. It’s been an honor to help drive this point home, and on behalf of the entire Duke delegation, I thank Islands First and Mark Jariabka in particular for helping us get our feet wet in all things UN… sea-level rise pun not intended.
Thank you Mark! And Tuvalu—we’ve got your back.