Small island states: overlooked but highly vulnerable

The number of climate change-related events is rapidly increasing, and Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) are highly vulnerable. In 2013, Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, was hit by a major flash flood that damaged informal settlements built in high-risk areas. In 2015, a huge cyclone destroyed big parts of Port Vila, the capital of Vanuatu. Despite this fact, cities and towns in small islands and archipelago-based nations are often overlooked by international urban resilience policies and programs as a result of their small populations.

Local leaders from small island states are increasingly calling on the international community to recognize and respond to the risks they face. Following the cyclone, at the 2015 ICLEI World Congress in Seoul, the Mayor of Port Vila called for stronger support from the international community to cities like Port Villa around the world.

This morning at Resilient Cities, the Deputy Mayor of Honiara continued to make the case for cities in SIDS. Cities like Honiara are the first victims of climate change and contribute marginally to global greenhouse gas emission. Yet they receive little support and recognition.

This is how ICLEI came to work with UN Disaster Agency and UNISDR to support small islands on building climate change adaptation strategies.

Using a methodology based on the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, ICLEI, UCLG and UNISDR first helped Port Vila to assess its vulnerabilities and develop targeted action plans. The methodology used a scorecard approach, giving cities the opportunity to map their progress on ten key areas.

As the Mayor of Honiara stressed, once the priority areas of work are identified, cities in SIDS need strong leaders who can champion these challenges and rally stakeholders around the topic. They also need finance to take action and, importantly, trained staff with the capacity to implement projects. However, in many of these cities, municipal employees are often already overwhelmed and do not have the capacity – and often the expertise – to take on these tasks. Cities are therefore reaching out for external support and seeking to establish partnerships and knowledge networks.

ICLEI Oceania now works with small island states to help them build capacity and learn about successful resilience practices. ICLEI has just announced the launch of a community of towns and provinces in SIDS that aims to facilitate collaboration and advance their cause.

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