how-small-island-nations-fight-poverty-alongside-pollutionSmall island nations possess a unique perspective in the fight against poverty. Representing some of the most vulnerable areas, their tiny landmasses and isolated locations make them particularly susceptible to climate disasters. This can lead to extreme suffering and hardship for the county’s citizens when their supply routes are cut. The 2010 earthquake in Haiti is an example of this; so is the 2021 volcanic explosion in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. However, they also possess unique economic opportunities to uplift their citizens that rest upon that same tempestuous climate.

The Vulnerability of Small Island Nations

To put into perspective how vulnerable small island nations are, one can consult the Global Risk Report, a yearly study of the countries most susceptible to natural, social and economic disasters. In 2021, 10 small islands ranked in the top 15 most vulnerable nations on the list.

Small islands accounted for the top three most vulnerable nations: Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Tonga. The reason being: they possess a dangerous mixture of impoverished people, poor infrastructure and high susceptibility to climate events. Such events are only increasing with time due to climate change. “In addition to cyclones, earthquakes and droughts, the risk profile is also increasingly determined by sea-level rise.”

The COVID-19 pandemic also hit small island nations harder than most. Tourism, an industry that completely dried up during the height of the virus, powered many island economies. Importing and exporting goods also became much more difficult as supply lines around the world strained over new restrictions.

Going Green in the Maldives With Parley

Most small island nations are slowly recovering from the pandemic and looking towards a brighter economic and social future. These countries are trying to strengthen by becoming some of the most environmentally advanced nations on the planet.

The Maldives, a collection of islands near Sri Lanka, began partnering with environmental nonprofit Parley for the Oceans in 2019 in order to help preserve the nation’s famous coastlines.

Parley is implementing the AIR (Avoid, Intercept, Redesign) strategy, working with local organizations and communities. Parley prioritized the following:

  • Reducing plastic use
  • Educating communities and youth
  • Combating pollution with cleanups
  • Recycling and plastic interception programs
  • Support an eco-innovative approach to sustainable development

Parley, implemented “plastic interception and baling sites” including more than 70 educational facilities. Hosted “collaborative cleanups” on shores and built the first plastic center and innovation laboratory in the nation’s capital of Malé.

Although this partnership does not directly address poverty in the nation, Parley looks to help struggling people within the Maldives by way of educational programs and “eco-innovative” collaborations with artists and corporations that bring more money and jobs into the country. The program has coincided with a decline in poverty in the Maldives, as the poverty rate rose to 11% during the pandemic-fueled year of 2020 but then fell to 4% a year later in 2021.

Tree Planting in Jamaica

Jamaica, which saw its poverty rate balloon during the pandemic to almost 23% in 2020, is using an eco-friendly approach to support the economies of itself and smaller islands around the Caribbean. In 2019, the nation founded the Caribbean Philanthropic Alliance, which aims to pool “financial and other resources” to help Caribbean nations meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. This includes the achievement of environment-related SDGs. As such, the Caribbean Philanthropic Alliance implemented the Caribbean Tree Planting Project (CTPP) in February 2020, mobilizing young people, local communities and organizations across 22 Caribbean nations to plant at least 1 million trees to speed up progress toward achieving the SDGs.

Seychelles’ Blue Economy

In Seychelles, a collection of islands off the western coast of Africa, the “blue economy,” which the World Bank describes as “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods and jobs,” has helped the nation and its people grow stronger in recent years. In 2018, Seychelles launched the “world’s first sovereign blue bond” to fund projects to strengthen the nation’s blue economy. In March 2020, Seychelles absolved of its foreign debt by denoting a third of its marine territory as a protected area. It was the first-ever case where foreign debt is paid off by way of environmental change. These changes are part of why Seychelles can expect to see a rise in GDP by 4.6% in 2022 and a decline in poverty ($5.5 in 2011 PPP) from 6.6% in 2020 to 5.1% in 2023.

Moving Forward

These small islands will require more foreign assistance to keep moving forward and reaching their environmental goals. As the U.N. reported in September 2019, “sustainable development in small island developing States will require a major increase in urgent investment.” It is essential for the health of these nations that these programs continue to receive funding. If they are, the islands’ futures, as well as their oceans, will be bright.

Finn Hartnett

Photo: Flickr