- - Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Like the proverbial canary in the coal mine, small and developing coastal nations and island-states are singularly qualified to identify the world’s problems – and help mobilize solutions. They are, after all, leading clarion calls about the negative impacts of climate change; and when beset by social ills, they suffer more profoundly than rich and more resilient countries suffering those same problems. Their experiences serve as a warning siren to developed nations.

These small states thus speak with a distinctive moral authority when identifying and shaping solutions to global problems. That message was delivered earlier this month by Henry Leonard Mac Donald, Suriname’s permanent representative to the United Nations, during the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States in Apia, Samoa. Small nations like Suriname, he observed, are “highly important to the global community,” because they “function as microcosms of global phenomena.”

Suriname is one of 52 members of the Small Island Development States (SIDS) – a group recognized in June, 1992, by the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Though not an island, Suriname is similarly affected by a low-lying coastline and it accompanying challenges.

Situated on South America’s northeastern coast, the country of 570,000 is bordered by French Guiana to the East, Guyana to the West, and Brazil to the South. The former Dutch colony has a land mass of 64,000 square miles, making it slightly larger than the U.S. state of Georgia. It is South America’s smallest country.

Today, Suriname’s political leaders and diplomats are working to overcome similar challenges unique to small island-nations – low-lying coastal areas; small economies; and vulnerable ecosystems. Recently, Suriname has cautiously ramped up gold and oil production with an eye toward using revenues from those enterprises to boost social development and to eventually transition to a more sustainable economy revolving around industries like agriculture, forestry, fisheries, services and tourism.

Mac Donald, during an interview, explained that Suriname’s development strategy revolves around a human-centered policy. At home, Suriname has launched programs to improve education and health care and provide more housing, in addition to improving the legal framework for social benefits.

Above all, it is seeking to get the most out of foreign direct investment and trade for its strategic sectors. To do this, Mac Donald and other emissaries play active roles in United Nations and other regional and international bodies. Suriname is particularly focused on the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and its representatives have supported its strengthening during stints as chairperson.

Mac Donald said his Surinamese heritage has served him well when engaged in “consensus building” in regional and international bodies; or as he explained: “As the Representative of a relatively small, Dutch-speaking, multicultural and religious country in South America with a Caribbean history, it’s rather easy for me and the staff at the Mission to intimately connect with colleagues from all over the world. I view multilateral diplomacy as important vehicle for small states to be successful in international negotiations; consequently, consensus building is my main focus and the most important goal of my work.”

In advancing “South-South cooperation,” Mac Donald said that he anticipates a busy agenda during the next 12 months, including to help call international attention to the critical areas of concern of the Fourth Conference on Women (the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action).

At the same time, he expressed pride that CARICOM was instrumental in spurring the United Nations to adopt a landmark General Assembly resolution on the Prevention and Control of Non Communicable Diseases. The resolution will marshal resources to fight heart disease, strokes, many cancers, and diabetes, among others. They are among the biggest killers in the Caribbean, yet Mac Donald noted that combating the diseases was not addressed in the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals.

Said Mac Donald: “Suriname is a proud member of the United Nations communities and we are eager to share our virtues of peaceful co-existence in multicultural diversity with the world.”

This article was produced in conjunction with The Washington Times International Advocacy Department.

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