The Third Caribbean Development Roundtable meeting opened here on Wednesday, focusing on heavy debt among the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Caribbean.
The average debt-to-GDP ratio among SIDS in the Caribbean hovers around 74 percent, with some countries surpassing 100 percent, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
Regional leaders, in Kingston for the two-day ECLAC meeting, recognized the seriousness of the situation and the urgency required in tackling the problem.
Addressing the session, Jamaican Foreign Minister Arnold Nicholson said this meant reduced expenditure for social programs, among other things, and the theme of resilience therefore had particular resonance for Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean.
"Our region is saddled by high public debt and reduced fiscal space. The debt problem has reached epidemic proportions, forcing a number of countries, including my own, to pursue programs of fiscal consolidation," he said, attributing the debt accumulation partly to the expenditure on reconstruction following natural disasters.
The minister urged the region's development partners to be more cooperative given that SIDS are more vulnerable to extreme weather events associated with climate change, such as the torrential rains and flooding that hit the eastern Caribbean in December 2013.
The damage was estimated to be as high as 93.3 million U.S. dollars, or 13 percent of GDP in St Vincent and the Grenadines, and 83.2 million dollars, or 6.3 percent of St Lucia's GDP.
"These were sizeable impacts for countries that were just barely recovering from the global crisis. Few countries of the globe can cope on their own with a sudden and catastrophic event equivalent to the loss of over six percent of their GDP," Nicholson said, adding that Caribbean development partners needed to be more aware of this vulnerability and focus more on cooperation.
The minister insisted that special attention must be paid to developing and strengthening partnerships in areas such as climate change and disaster risk management.
"It is only through the identification of integrated strategies for building resilience, that our vulnerabilities can be overcome and Caribbean development assured," he argued.
The roundtable is set up to provide a forum for experts to exchange ideas and to pursue ways of addressing the economic, social and environmental vulnerabilities of Caribbean SIDS, so as to strengthen their relationship and ultimately to influence or form policies at national level, according to the organizer.