Natural disasters and small island developing states: Future goals

Dr. Angelos Kaskanis

Project Manager - Tactics Institute

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) share similar sustainable development challenges, such as limited land mass and arable land, fragile natural environments, reliance on food imports, geographic isolation and distance from global markets.

SIDS, with a population of 65 million people, account for only 1% of CO2 emissions, but they are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and face an existential threat.

Fisheries, tourism, and agriculture all contribute significantly to their economy, but their vulnerability and fragility make it more difficult for them to produce enough food to meet the needs of their population.

Almost all SIDS import 60% of their food, and 50% of island countries import more than 80%. As a result, disruptions in supply chains and international trade, such as flight cancellations, shipping industry slowdowns, and logistics bottlenecks, have a disproportionate impact on these states.

The Global SIDS Solutions Dialogue held annually focuses on the “severe challenge” these often impoverished low-lying nations face in being able to reach the goals of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Natural Disasters

SIDS are the most disaster-prone countries in the world. With an increasing frequency over time, they are regularly hit by severe storms and other disasters, causing on average an annual damage of 2.1 percent of GDP.

In 2013 Saint Lucia was hit by a tropical storm, delivering 225 mm of precipitation in three hours and producing flash flooding and landslides. Nearly 20,000 people were affected, with six people killed. Infrastructure in transportation, agriculture, sanitation and tourism was particularly hard hit. Businesses and housing were harmed across the island. Damage and losses totalled an incredible US$100 million, or 8.3 percent of Saint Lucia’s GDP.

‘Everything went down the drain. We had farmers with 15,000 plants of tomatoes, cantaloupes, honeydew, name it. The river broke its banks, everything went down to the sea,’ said Herricks Renee, President of the Black Bay Small Farmers Cooperative. The storm demonstrated that Saint Lucia is vulnerable to natural disasters year-round.

The impact of last 2016s Hurricane Matthew in Haiti underscores the disaster risks faced by SIDs.The hurricane wreaked havoc unseen in more than a decade during hurricane season, with winds of up to 230 kilometres per hour and 600 millimetres of rain in less than 24 hours. The death toll was extremely high, with 546 people killed, 128 people missing, 439 injured, and 2.1 million people affected.

Alongside rising sea levels and natural disasters, a lack of financial resources and international support remains a key priority in need of addressing.

Impact of Covid

SIDS have a substantial level of debt. The UN reported that the total external debt stocks of such countries reached $50.4 billion in 2019, this is an increase of 70% since 2009.

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the economies and livelihoods of SIDS. Many of these island nations rely heavily on tourism to fuel their economic development. Economic contractions of up to 15% are predicted this year as international travel is severely restricted and global supply chains are disrupted.

Many SIDS are heavily dependent on tourism for revenue, which nose-dived during the pandemic. Covid-19 lockdown measures have stalled trade and foreign investment for many SIDS, too. Finance for climate-resilient and low-carbon development is scarcer than ever.

Moving forward

SIDS share a set of common social, economic and environmental characteristics, making them a compelling case for long-term development. This puts them in a particularly difficult position to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and its ripple effects on socioeconomic well-being.

In spite of these challenges, island leaders have demonstrated a strong desire to improve recovery and maintain progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. They are at the forefront of climate action, urging increased global ambitions and efforts in advance of COP26.  Tere is hope on the horizon but he unmistakable message from island leaders is that time is not a luxury.

It is critical that countries continue to invest in and apply new technologies such as spatial data and remote sensing for future post-disaster assessment, project implementation, and supervision to ensure critical work can be completed even in adverse conditions.

In the Caribbean, national disaster management agencies are overcoming obstacles to the implementation of effective emergency preparedness and response systems. The Caribbean region is facing an increasing number of devastating storms and extreme weather events, as evidenced by the lengthening of the Atlantic hurricane season during which these storms can form and their severity. These events require advanced government and institutional capacities to adequately prepare for an immediate response in their aftermath.

‘Digital technologies can improve the sustainability and efficiency of agri-food system in SIDS by empowering farmers to become more productive, to better access markets, to reduce waste, and to make agricultural practices more eco-friendly,’ said Hani Eskandar of the International Telecommunication Union’s.

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