Small island developing states need to take ownership of measures to combat obesity and hunger

Tackling climate change a primary goal to bring sustainable development to small island nations

15 July 2019, New York - Obesity affecting populations of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) is a health emergency and these nations need to take ownership of measures to address this worrying trend's underlying causes, said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva today.

The FAO chief made the remarks to participants - including leaders of small island nations - of a SIDS-focused event on the sidelines of the High Level Political Forum 2019.

The impacts of climate change, limited local food due to scarce and degraded land and ocean resources, changes in diets and a high dependence on imported foods - often ultra-processed products that are high in salts, sugars and fats - have led to "extremely high levels of overweight and obesity," warned Graziano da Silva.

According to the 2019 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) launched earlier today at the forum by FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, adult obesity in SIDS is almost 60 percent higher than the global average (20.9 percent versus 13.2 percent), and in many Polynesian and Micronesian small island nations, almost one in two adults is obese.

The prevalence of hunger or undernourishment is also higher in SIDS than globally (17.5 percent compared to 10.7 percent), according to the latest SOFI report.

"The growing reliance on food imports is related to the vulnerability of local food systems that support more diversified diets, and to weather related shocks," said Graziano da Silva. 

"We need a global compromise for the Small Islands Development States, and I am happy that the upcoming session of the General Assembly, this September, will review and assess the implementation of the SAMOA Pathway," added the FAO chief.

Global Action Programme

To address the root causes of obesity and hunger, Graziano da Silva urged small island nations to take ownership of the Global Action Programme (GAP).

Launched in 2017, the GAP offers a framework to better align SIDS' and development partners' actions and addresses the disconnection between sectoral policies that make meeting the small island nations' complex food security and nutrition challenges difficult.

The FAO Director-General called specifically for countries to "take a cross-government approach to designing and implementing actions that are empowering communities, that are coherent, and that do not work against one another". 

"For example, SIDS governments need to make better use of own their marine resources by addressing issues such as illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing which remains one of the greatest threats to marine ecosystems," said Graziano da Silva.

He pointed out that 17 SIDS out of the 38 that are UN member countries, are still not signatories of FAO-led Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA) - the sole, binding international agreement specifically targeting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

"I hope that we will be able to re-commit to our partnership together through the GAP, and to accelerate its implementation to ultimately realize the 2030 Agenda," said Tommy Remengesau Jr., President of the Republic Palau, at the opening of the event.

Inga Rhonda King, President of ECOSOC, for her part said: "The GAP provides a framework to guide us forward. I hope that we can use this programme and today's event to re-energize our commitment to food security and nutrition and sustainable development in SIDS, transforming our collective will in new partnerships, funds and integrated responses to tackle the challenges before us."

Photo: ©FAO/Zarfia Amoa
Women at the main fruit, flower and vegetable market in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila.