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Last Updated: Monday, 10 January, 2005, 12:40 GMT
Talks highlight risks to islands
Sea defences in Maldive capital Male
States like the Maldives are vulnerable to sea surges
A UN conference on small island states has opened in Mauritius with calls for early warning systems to help cope with disasters like the Asian tsunami.

Mauritian PM Paul Berenger said many lives could have been saved during the disaster by an Indian Ocean system.

The meeting also plans to discuss ways to promote tourism while protecting the environment and other economic sectors.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is expected to attend later in the week after touring the Maldive Islands.

Mr Berenger said delegates should seriously reflect on recommendations to set up early warning systems and methods of operating them.

At an aid conference in Jakarta last week, world leaders called for a system similar to that currently operating in the Pacific to be set up in the Indian Ocean.

'Destructive year'

The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt in Mauritius says a development plan for the small islands has been in place for 10 years but they now face new challenges such as Aids, the erosion of preferential trading arrangements and an increase in severe weather events.

The damage sustained by these islands will take years to repair
Paul Berenger
Mauritian prime minister
The year 2004, said Mr Berenger, had been particularly destructive for states like his even before the tsunami struck.

He cited also the Pacific states of Tuvalu and Niue, devastated by tides and cyclones respectively, and a series of hurricanes which badly affected islands in the Caribbean.

"These disasters have once again demonstrated the extreme vulnerability of small island development states," he said. "The damage sustained by these islands will take years to repair."

Even in good times the islands struggle, our correspondent says, as most have tiny populations and therefore a limited pool of skills and a small local market.

New international trade agreements are threatening the preferential treatment they have enjoyed in the past, she adds, and while they attract a lot of international goodwill this meeting will be trying to turn that into guaranteed practical support.



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