Private sector calls for greater connectivity for SIDS

Margareta Wahlström, Head of UNISDR, with Digicel Chairman, Denis O'Brien, at the International Conference on SIDS in Samoa. (Photo: UNISDR)
 
By Brigitte Leoni

APIA, 2 September 2014 - The private sector is set to have a major impact on the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) which opened in Samoa on the 1st of September, with a strong focus on how to reduce the exposure of 52 million island dwellers to future disaster events amplified by climate change.

At the High Level Dialogue session of the two-day Private Sector Forum ahead of the UN SIDS conference in Apia, Digicel Group Chairman and UN Broadband Commissioner, Denis O’Brien called for the World Bank, Asia Development Bank, IFC, The European Union and private sector telecommunications companies to come together to build a new submarine cable throughout the region in order to close the digital divide and build resilience for Pacific Island nations.

“Connectivity is key to unlocking growth and building resilience for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and a new submarine cable linking the nations of Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, Samoa and Nauru to Sydney will drive change by providing access to broadband services” commented Mr. O’Brien.

“Improved connectivity via a new submarine cable will save lives, jobs and also make communities recover faster when disasters happen,” Mr. O’Brien said.

For businesses like Digicel, investing in the submarine cable will not only bring about greater connectivity, but will help build greater resilience for SIDS through improved access to early warning information systems, data collection services and tracking, awareness and by developing more robust communication services which are essential for recovery efforts.

Mr. O’Brien also offered to provide free access to co-locate equipment on tower infrastructure to develop and house early warning technology and data collection systems. In addition, to assist in times of disaster, Digicel provides customers with free credit to assist with vital communications. The Digicel Group operates in 32 countries in the Pacific, Central America and the Caribbean.

The High Level Dialogue was attended by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the Samoan Prime Minister, Mr Tuilaepa Aiono Malielegaoi, Ms Julie Bishop, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ms. Julie Bishop, and Heads of UN agencies.

Praising the “extraordinary partnership and commitment” being made during the two-day private sector forum, Mr. Ban told representatives of business and industry that they have a collective responsibility to protect the most vulnerable.

The Samoan Prime Minister, Mr. Malielegaoi, warned that the islands are sinking. He encouraged world leaders “to see for themselves what our islands are doing to deal with climate change, natural disasters and the tough economic challenges thrust upon us.”

Minister Bishop said: “The private sector leads economic growth and this forum is one of the most important events of the conference. Aid is not the panacea anymore for poverty reduction and national development. We need a spirit of innovation, and the private sector has it.”

“It is obvious that the private sector is ready and looking for solutions. Businesses know the challenges and will be fast and first in taking action,” said Margareta Wahlström, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Reduction and Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), who moderated the disaster risk reduction session at the private forum.

Steve Collar from EB Networks, who is also convinced that the private sector can be a main actor in building resilience said: “If we can save the life of one child because his family is warned and connected, I will be also very proud to have done a good job. Beyond the market opportunities, we all see the business advantages of helping communities as well,”

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are on the front line of global climate change and are expected to suffer from more flooding, cyclones, droughts and the negative effects of sea level rise.

Mr. O’Brien further commented on Digicel’s role in building more resilient nations via greater connectivity, “For businesses like us, investing in resilience is not only about saving lives but is about saving jobs and making communities recover faster when disasters happen.”

Building “extraordinary partnerships” is seen as one of the main solutions to help make Small Island developing States (SIDS) more resilient against disasters and economically viable. These partnerships will be at the heart of this week’s conference.
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