The catastrophe wrought upon the Caribbean by this year’s Atlantic hurricane season has shone a light on the plight of small islands and the rapid increase in risks they face from climate change, despite contributing to the phenomenon to a miniscule degree.
The calamity that has struck islands including Barbuda raises questions about how to make Small Island Developing States (SIDS) more resilient and reduce the numbers of people affected by disaster when the risk of losing lives and livelihoods to storms is escalating, according to Robert Glasser, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction.
“The forced abandonment of Barbuda in the Caribbean following Hurricane Irma, after 300 years of continuous human occupation, is a cruel reminder of the vulnerability of these low-lying outposts of civilisation,” said Glasser, who is also the head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), writing in the Huffington Post. “SIDS are more vulnerable to disasters because many are heavily indebted, their economies are undiversified and hazard events often affect the whole territory.”
The resilience gap faced by islands is destined to grow, the expert warned, unless there is investment which reduces the existing stock of risk, and strong policies are in place to ensure that new risk is not created through poorly informed or under-resourced investments in areas like tourism, education, health facilities, transport links and public utilities. Glasser’s perspective shows how addressing climate change risks requires a holistic view of island sustainability, given the fragility of their ecosystems and economies.
“Once this Atlantic hurricane season ends, there must be a reflection on how best to take the resilience agenda forward to the benefit of the people of these island states,” Glasser concluded.