Small Island Developing States, Increasingly Challenged by Natural Disasters, Discuss Options

21 May 2013

Small Island Developing States, Increasingly Challenged by Natural Disasters, Discuss Options

21 May 2013
Press Release
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Small Island Developing States, Increasingly Challenged


by Natural Disasters, Discuss Options


GENEVA, 21 May (United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction) — As disaster risk reduction experts met in Geneva this afternoon on strengthening partnerships for small island developing States, there were many calls for inter-island cooperation, as well as adequate financial and technical resources. 

Gyan Chandra Acharya, United Nations High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, said that natural disasters were a fact of life in those countries, but their impact should not be. 

Jan Eliasson, United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, said that when it came to the environment and the climate, there was no “Planet B”.  Small island developing States suffered disproportionately from climate change, which could affect their economies, territories, and at times their very existence.  They relied on the business community to help strengthen their economies and riddled with debt by recurring disasters.

David Basile, Minister of the Interior of Haiti, said that the Caribbean nations were coming closer together than ever before, with true regional integration developing through political and economic events.  There had, for example, been increasing exchanges on climate change, and on controlling and managing land and sea phenomena:  an increase in heavy rainfall could be expected, but what would happen with the farming cycle was unpredictable.

Rajendra K. Pachauri, Chair, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, saidthat rising sea levels were responsible for extreme coastal flooding and substantially higher risks for small island developing States; low-lying islands were especially vulnerable to erosion, inundation and saline intrusion.  Disasters entailed the possible loss of development opportunities and a setback in development gains, with sharp economic repercussions.

James Fletcher, Minister of Public Service, Sustainable Development, Energy, Science and Technology of Saint Lucia, said the Caribbean, where many countries were already confronting debt and anaemic economic growth, faced an increased risk of climate change.  To minimize the possible trauma, disaster mitigation should be approached from the regional level.  Small island developing States should institute effective early warning systems, strengthen planning and building guidelines, and share best practices.  Economic constraints should be considered in investing in the future. 

Nikki Kaye, Minister of Civil Defence of New Zealand, said the country had a lot in common with small island developing States, as it was also highly prone to hazards.  New Zealand felt a strong responsibility to assist Pacific nations with training, awareness-raising and practical assistance in emergencies, and was helping with a tsunami-mapping exercise.

Marisa Helena do Nascimento Morais, Minister of Home Affairs of Cape Verde,said that disaster risk reduction could not be dealt with in isolation but should be a part of the national development policy.  The costs of recovery and limited budgetary capacity meant that even “small” disasters were considerable, and so Cape Verde was working to update its development agenda to include disaster risk reduction.  Subregional, regional and international partnerships would help it build its resilience.

Mohamed Nazim, Minster of Defence of Maldives, said that all efforts towards disaster reduction in small island developing States should go hand in hand with climate change adaptation.  For the past few years it had focused on creating resilient island communities in the face of storm surges, flooding and other hazards, and the tourism industry was also looking at how to increase resilience.

Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, said the European Union had been in the forefront of the battle against climate change.  Its partnerships with developing countries focused on building solutions through a bottom-up approach and on funding for resilience and humanitarian aid. 

Andrew Maskrey, Coordinator, United Nations Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction, said that reducing disaster risks was one of the best ways for small island developing States to gain traction and increase their competitiveness. 

Iruthisham Adam of Maldives said that natural disasters had increased considerably in small island developing States, many of which relied on their environment and ecosystems for income generation.  Maldives was already committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2020. 

Jose Rubiera, Director of the National Forecasting Centre of Cuba, said the planet was changing and there was an increased hurricane risk in the Caribbean, but Cuba had faced many previous such disasters successfully.  Its meteorologists used simple language and graphics to explain hurricanes, and their messages were translated into guidelines and recommendations and broadcast as early warning messages through various mediums.  Student competitions were held to test knowledge of disaster issues, and little by little the population was developing an awareness of risk.

Annies Simon, Civil Society Representative of Vanuatu, said that the greatest challenges faced by small Pacific island countries in confronting natural hazards were internal capacities and geographical location.  What they relied on the most was their traditional knowledge ‑ including observation of cloud movements and seabirds ‑ which for generations had been a powerful tool for coping with hardship.  Small community committees took preventive and responsive action in the face of natural hazards.  They valued becoming self-reliant before seeking donor support.

Ronald Jackson, Executive Director, Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, said that disaster risk reduction was a developmental issue, involving governance, partnerships for sustainable financing, and emerging partnerships.  While the issue had advanced considerably in the region, more targeted investment was required.  Partners and funding should be further harmonized, language should be repackaged and the value of investing in risk reduction should be better illustrated.

Speakers concurred that Caribbean nations were coming together to address climate change, sustainable development, trade and the like.  One of the challenges was to ensure that the strategies were mutually reinforcing.  Efforts were also presently focused on tourism and community-level risk reduction, rather than spread out into broader sectors, such as agriculture; a cross-sectoral approach might be advisable, along with regional work on transboundary risks. 

Christophe Legrand, Team Leader, Indian Ocean Commission, said that climate change adaptation should be strongly aligned with disaster risk reduction, and more resources should be made available through regional cooperation in such areas as data procurement, where many small island developing States lacked individual capacity.   

Mr. Adam said that more information was needed on how to actually manage disasters.  Disaster assessments were piling up on the shelves, but instead of more reports, daily work at the grass-roots level was needed.

Gary Philoctete, Country Director, J/P Haitian Relief Organization, said that a cash-forward approach had been useful after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti to involve families in all stages of the relocation process.  Both formal and on-the-job training had been provided to masons.  Unfortunately, Government involvement had been limited, as most of its institutions had collapsed.  Poverty and instability only impeded disaster risk reduction, which required major infrastructure development that was often beyond the Government’s capacity.  The private sector, which was also important, was unfortunately lacking in Haiti.  Despite efforts at reconstruction, the country remained very vulnerable, and ran more or less the same risk in the event of another earthquake or hurricane. 

Mr. Jackson said that any intervention in the Caribbean should involve capacity-building.  Some countries were excluded from donor envelopes, making them even more vulnerable.  However, parallel mechanisms were emerging to deal with climate change adaptation financing. 

Summing up, Mr. Acharya said that the afternoon’s presentations had provided a holistic view of both challenges and opportunities.  It was not only small islands that were being looked at, but also the large oceans, which had an impact on the health of the islands and their inhabitants.  Early warning, institutions and resourcing were extremely important in any discussions of disaster risk reduction, which should be mainstreamed into national development plans.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.