Sustainability and Small Island Developing States

Despite the challenges, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have rich ecological resources, marine and land biodiversity including beaches, coral reefs, rain-forests, rivers, and lakes. They enjoy tropical and sub-tropical climates, which in addition to their “islandness” are alluring to tourists. As such tourism is a major industry among these nations and territories. Regarding sustainability, Governments of SIDS must face these realities and develop sustainable national strategic plans.

What are SIDS

Small Island Developing States are a group of 57 countries and territories located in three regions, the Caribbean, the Pacific and AIMS (the Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Sea) that share common characteristics and exposed to social economic and environmental vulnerabilities. Recent hurricanes Irma and Maria that caused massive destructive and tragic loss of life in the Caribbean, bring to the fore the social and economic impact that these countries face.

Despite the challenges, SIDS have rich ecological resources, marine and land biodiversity including beaches, coral reefs, rain-forests, rivers, and lakes. They enjoy tropical and sub-tropical climates, which in addition to their “islandness” are alluring to tourists. As such tourism is a major industry among these nations and territories. Governments of SIDS must face these realities and develop sustainable national strategic plans.

The nations are at different levels of income and development as well as population size and density. The small land size, geographic location of SIDS are at the core of their vulnerability and the challenge of achieving sustainable development. SIDS are characterized by high energy cost and dependence on expensive fuel.

Availability of water is also an issue and several counties depend on the expensive process of desalination. Infrastructure, transportation and communications costs are also high because of unfavourable economies of scale due to small size. This causes a drain on financial resources and diverts funds that could have been used for social development.

The Challenges

The risk of damage and loss of life is exacerbated by the high-density settlements especially along coastal areas, and on hillsides.  Development control, zoning, as well as building code regulations and enforcement are weak.

In many instances, there are insufficient institutions for study and training, leading to a limited skills base and brain drain. There are relatively fewer opportunities for the private sector and a large dependency on the public sector. These small open economies have small domestic markets, low competitiveness and high dependence on imports causing balance of payment issues and challenges like food insecurity.

In addition, SIDS have relatively small population sizes and labour force, which limits the options for local industries. There is a lack of economic diversity and high dependence on one industry e.g. tourism. This unsustainable economic structure leaves SIDS vulnerable to external shocks with long periods of recovery.

SIDS have high and costly environmental vulnerabilities including natural disasters like cyclones, earthquakes, flooding, sea level rise, storm surges, and drought. All these are made are impacted significantly by climate change for which SIDS are the most vulnerable. The recent major hurricanes Irma and Maria, did major damage to several islands in the Caribbean at a cost surpassing their GDP and negatively impacting revenue earning capacity for years.

The risk of damage and loss of life is exacerbated by the high-density settlements especially along coastal areas, and on hillsides. Development control, zoning, as well as building code regulations and enforcement are weak. This leads to buildings and communities that are not resilient to the environmental threats above. Many of these countries depend on the fragile natural environment of for economic development, like tourism, agriculture and fishing.

Outlook

It is not possible for any of these countries to independently achieve sustainable development given the inherent vulnerabilities of their economies and high susceptibility to environmental threats. There are however strategies and policies that governments can pursue to make SIDS more resilient as well as take exploit the many advantages that these countries have.

What is required are national policies that promote and support a resilient national spirit, a sense of community, and interdependence that defeats size and “islandness”.

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