Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Caribbean, Pacific, Africa and Indian Ocean are among the world’s most vulnerable countries to natural disasters, and climate change is expected to greatly increase their exposure to hurricanes, storm surges, extreme winds, and flooding. A report launched today by the World Bank says the transport sector can play a central role in reducing the vulnerability of SIDS.

The report, entitled Climate and Disaster-Resilient Transport in Small Island Developing States: A Call for Action, finds that damage to roads and bridges constitutes a major share of disaster losses in SIDS, resulting in huge fiscal strains for their small economies. Transport often represents a large share of public assets in small islands, for example in Dominica transport assets are valued at 82% of GDP. In Fiji, one third of the total government budget is spent on the transport sector.

“Transport is critical to the economy and for the provision of services to remote communities,” said the Hon. Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Minister for Economy of Fiji.Our transport infrastructure is already affected by climate change. There is an urgent need to develop tailored and climate smart solutions to improve the resilience of this sector. This report makes a valuable contribution by highlighting innovative solutions focused on small island developing states.”

According to the report, disaster vulnerability and costs in SIDS can be significantly reduced by investments in transport asset management that factor in climate change and disaster risks. This includes placement of transport infrastructure away from high risk locations, physical protection against hazards, application of innovative materials and construction designs, infrastructure maintenance, and deployment of early warning systems, among others.

“The effects of hurricanes Irma and Maria on the Caribbean are a stark reminder of how natural disasters can set vulnerable small countries back by decades,” said Franz Drees-Gross, World Bank Director for Transport and Digital Development. “As climate change increases the frequency and intensity of extreme weather, small island developing states face the urgent need to adapt. Resilient transport systems should be a priority in that effort, due to the large recovery costs and the critical role they play in all aspects of their economies.”

In addition to the direct costs of physical damage, limited economic diversification and low capacity to cope, aggravated by impaired transport systems, result in critical losses to income and population well-being. This includes interruptions of access to services such as schools and hospitals, and lost revenues in vital sectors such as tourism, fishing, and agriculture, worsening long-term economic losses and making recovery even more difficult. Despite these risks, the adoption of a transport resilience package could reduce losses significantly. For Tonga, for example, this could reduce well-being losses by as much as 25%.

Against less frequent and unpredictable high-impact events, SIDS will also need better access to financial instruments, the report notes. The Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), managed by the World Bank, provides risk finance and transfer facilities, but these efforts need to be strengthened and complemented by additional financial resources to enhance the resilience of transport systems.

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