World?s most vulnerable countries gather for talks

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Ministers from the world's most beautiful and most vulnerable countries are flying in to this volcanic speck in the Indian Ocean to try to assure that their plight is not forgotten when the world's attention moves on from the tsunami disaster.

Ministers from the world's most beautiful and most vulnerable countries are flying in to this volcanic speck in the Indian Ocean to try to assure that their plight is not forgotten when the world's attention moves on from the tsunami disaster.

Increasingly battered by hurricanes as well as last week's tsunami, the world's Small Island Developing States - familiarly known as SIDS - are also threatened by a host of environmental crises, including being submerged by the rising seas brought about by global warming.

But rich countries have broken promises made 10 years ago to treat them as a "special case'' and aid to them has been falling.

Last month's tragedy has given them a brief moment in the world's spotlight at the same time as, by a series of coincidences, this long-planned summit of island states has taken place.

The series of hurricanes that tore through Florida and the Caribbean last autumn hit islands hard. Hurricane Jeanne killed some 2,750 people on Haiti in September, while it was still reeling from floods and landslides that had killed 2,000 in May.

Hurricane Charley did $1bn damage to Cuba and Hurricane Ivan was the first to hit the island Grenada for half a century: it cost the country twice its annual GNP and ruined or damaged 90 per cent of its houses.

Even before the tsunami, last year was heading to be a record year for disasters and most SIDS are particularly vulnerable because they have no hinterlands to retreat to when disaster strikes.

They're especially affected by over-fishing and sea pollution, have little space for waste and - despite being surrounded by the sea - are often short of fresh water.

Worst of all they are more at risk from global warming than any other country, although they are among those that emit the least of the gases that cause it. Several SIDS, such as Tuvalu and the Maldives, are expected to disappear entirely as the seas rise. Jagdish Koonjul, the chairman of their international union, the Alliance of Small Island States, said last week: "It is time to take a fresh look at the vulnerability of the islands.''

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