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Growing vulnerability of countries

The SIDS have been facing problems such as narrow resource bases, vulnerability to natural hazards, high external debt, difficulties in conforming to sanitary and phytosanitary regulations, overexploitation of forest and marine resources, high population growth and mobility, relative poverty, skilled human resource scarcity and weak institutional capacities (SIDSNet 2003a). The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO 2003a) reportedthat the SIDS are increasingly dependent on food imports while the rates of nutrition-related health problems are growing.

Climate change, including sea level rise and vulnerability to natural disasters such as hurricanes, is a major concern (Box 1). It has been projected that sea levels will increase by half a metre by 2100, severely threatening islands and low-lying coastal states and the very existence of some SIDS. If the sea level rises in the Maldives, for example, a large proportion of the landmass could disappear over the next 30 years, and be completely submerged by 2100 (IPCC 2001).Climate change and sea level rise are also expected to have adverse impacts on other natural resources of SIDS, such as land, freshwater,forests, and coastal and marine areas (IPCC 2001).

Box 1: Forum highlights climate change concerns

At the 34th Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Auckland in August 2003, the SIDS countries adopted a communique, which highlighted among several concerns, those of climate change, climate variability and sea level rise.
The communique stressed the need for:

  • urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and for further commitments in the future by all major emitters;
  • all countries to commit to a global effort to reduce GHG emissions and the adverse impacts of climate change, taking into account the special circumstances of SIDS;
  • Forum members to advocate internationally for immediate reductions and limits to GHG emissions at levels that will prevent dangerous interference and for the Council of Regional Organizations in the Pacific to continue to provide support at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) related meetings;
  • a range of adoption options, particularly for extreme weather and climate events, that are maintained and well funded, including through the Global Environment Facility; and
  • being proactive and developing appropriate, affordable, and cost-effective adaptation response measures immediately with support from relevant regional and national institutions.
Source: SIDSNet 2003b

Global warming is also likely to lead to an increase in maximum tropical cyclone wind speeds and lower central pressures, leading to more damaging storm surges.

The Pacific, Caribbean, and the AIMS (theAtlantic, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and the South China Seas) regions of SIDS reported in 2003 on their growing vulnerability. Meeting in August 2003, the Pacific SIDS noted that the vulnerability of SIDS has not only increased over the last decade but their resilience has not improved (SIDSNet 2003c).

SIDS have been trying to respond to these challenges by implementing various measures. Governments in the AIMS region reported in 2003 that they have been developing climate change action plans and identifying their most vulnerable sites, with some countries implementing adaptation measures. All countries in the region have submitted their initial national communications to the UNFCCC (SIDSNet 2003d). A meeting of the AIMS countries in Cape Verde in September 2003 noted the increasing risk of the adverse effects of climate change, highlighting the urgency for the international community to ratify and fully implement the Kyoto Protocol. They also recognized the need to identify and develop policies that build SIDS’ resilience, redressing vulnerability comprehensively. This includes the need to diversify economies and address security concerns. (SIDSNet 2003d).Some AIMS countries have established national early warning systems and disaster mitigation plans, including national and regional oil spill contingency plans. However, national capacity is unlikely to cope with the growing frequency of extreme weather events, and the costs associated with rehabilitation. The meeting, therefore, called for further international assistance to develop capacity for national disaster mitigation preparedness and create appropriate insurance and re-insurance
schemes for SIDS (SIDSNet 2003d).

The Caribbean SIDS consider that, to build resilience, there is a need:

for assistance from the international community to develop climate change models at scales appropriate to SIDS to better plan for adaptation to climate change;
to mainstream adaptation to climate change into various sectors, particularly agriculture,fisheries, health and water resources management;
to incorporate climate change adaptation concerns in national sustainable development plans; and
to improve public education and awareness of climate change issues in the region (UNDESA 2003).

Concern over the vulnerability of the environment in SIDS has also led to the development of the Environment Vulnerability Index (EVI), which reflects a country’s environmental vulnerability to damage and degradation. Development of the EVI is being undertaken by the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC), and preliminary results were released in 2003 (Kaly and others 2003). The results confirmed that SIDS are among the most vulnerable countries in the world.


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