How Small Island States are working together to turn the tide on disasters

Author(s) Habiba Gitay, World Bank Climate Policy team, The World Bank

Would you rather lie on the sand at the beach, or steal it? In Mauritius, some people chose the latter. For the small island state, illegal beach sand mining was a big problem. Companies used the sand to manufacture concrete for construction, leading to severe erosion that undermined the integrity of the entire coastline—a particularly important natural barrier for Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Whether caused by illegal mining, deforestation, storm surges, or sea-level rise, coastal erosion is a major issue facing SIDS, where assets are often densely located along the coast. Solutions to beach mining are not unique, but they are challenging to devise and enforce.

That’s what makes the case in Mauritius innovative. The country balanced out a new zero-tolerance policy for beach sand mining by promoting an alternative: the island’s abundant basalt rocks. The private sector now crushes those rocks and uses them to replace beach sand lost to illegal mining, and to satisfy industry’s demand for sand. The stark difference between the black basalt-based sand and the lighter beach sand also makes it easy to see who’s skirting the rules. Mauritius’s solution has caught on: São Tomé and Príncipe is drafting regulations to incorporate both the technical and policy aspects of the solution.

Indeed, small Island Developing States, despite their geographical distances, have a lot in common, from small populations to similar resource constraints. They are among first countries to feel the effects of a changing climate and increased disasters. Their unique context is the basis for finding and implementing solutions tailored to their needs – solutions that can be scaled to other SIDS.

For instance, Samoa, with support from the World Bank and the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR), found a creative way to address climate change across sectors: it set up a small coordination unit within the Ministry of Finance. Integrating climate risk into the budgeting and planning process is allowing Samoa to make its development resilient, and influencing early-warning systems, risk-informed policy and investment decisions. This small yet effective unit is inspiring other countries to try similar coordination mechanisms.

And this week, they’re sharing their experiences and results. The Small Island State Resilience Initiative (SISRI), housed in Global Facility for Disaster Risk Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), is coordinating a SIDS community of practice. Last year in Venice, SISRI supported 60 practitioners from 24 SIDS to meet and discuss challenges and lessons specific to small island states.

Just one year later, over 100 practitioners from 34 SIDS are meeting for three days (May 21-23) at the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, in Cancun, Mexico. The goal is simple: They want to “thrive on their own islands,” according to one representative. The outcomes of the meeting will be posted on the SISRI website and shared with the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Practitioners will have the chance to talk candidly about their successes and failures in building climate resilience, and to discuss cutting-edge technical solutions. For instance, a new GFDRR-supported project in the Republic of Marshall Islands is set to help manage coastal erosion in atoll islands, which offer little land and few options. The project, approved earlier this month, is part of the second phase of the World Bank’s Pacific Resilience Program (PREP), which allows Pacific SIDS to collaborate, share expertise, and invest in climate solutions and resilience initiatives.

Co-sponsored by GFDRR, United Nations Office of Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), and United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), the meeting will allow the 34 SIDS the chance to discuss how, although threatened by climate change, they can find ways not only to survive, but to thrive.

Habiba Gitay is a member of the World Bank’s Climate Policy team where she provides strategic direction on climate resilience and supports work that integrates development and climate resilience in select countries. Before joining the Bank, Habiba was a tenured staff at the Australian National University where she researched and taught sustainable development, climate change science and landscape management. She was the coordinating lead author of three assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and led the Technical Report on Climate Change and Biodiversity. Habiba enjoys hiking and facilitating discussions among diverse groups of people.

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