Living on an island

Commonwealth Network: Colloquia

A Small Island Developing States (SIDS) conference in Samoa in late 2014 shone a spotlight on the issues faced by these nations. Young people living in, or near, SIDS share their thoughts about the challenges ahead

SIDS Ryan Bachoo

Ryan Bachoo, 25, Trinidad and Tobago

It is not uncommon for SIDS to feel like David standing in front of Goliath. There are currently 52 SIDS in three geographic regions, with a combined population of 63.2 million people. So if we put them all together, they would still be four times smaller than the United States. They would, however, be about the population of Britain or France.

These developing island states, though, are scattered in remote locations around the world. Their populations range from a few thousand to just over a million. The size and resources of these nations make issues such as water, food and waste a frightening challenge even in the 21st century.

If, in every community, men and women can be taught how to help themselves by operating the necessary water-related equipment, then we will not find ourselves helping those affected by poor water sanitation, but instead working with them to achieve a common goal.

SIDS Tamara McKayle

Tamara McKayle, 25, Jamaica

The SIDS 2014 conference in Apia, Samoa, presented a perfect opportunity for the international community to show how serious it is about working with SIDS to pursue a plan of action to deal with the shocks of climate change.

May and June 2014 were the hottest on record since record keeping began in 1880. Yes I live in the tropics where it’s sunny all year round, but everyone notices this is not the regular kind of warm weather; this is hot, too hot! Climate change and its effects are here staring us in the face. Rain is a luxury we pray for. And as the earth dries, we hear increasingly of bush fires. Water lock-offs are too frequent, while farmers struggle to deal with drought. How prepared are we if and when the rains come in abundance and flooding occurs?

Yes, systems are in place in most SIDS, but the capacity for addressing risks is not yet fully or adequately developed. This is where the international community comes in, as partnership is fundamental for sustainable development.

SiDS Samantha Khan

Samantha Khan, 21, Trinidad and Tobago

Sustainable Energy, one of the topics addressed at the United Nations’ third international conference on SIDS in Samoa in 2014, at first glance may seem to be a very narrow and technical topic for such a format.

In fact, the energy sector has a great impact on many other aspects of life, including the environment, social and economic development, and international relations. As such, it is crucial for SIDS to treat the topic with careful thought, perhaps even more so than developed or larger nations, because these islands are in the unique position of being affected most gravely by climate change caused by the fossil fuel industry, while being without the economic luxury of investing in sustainable energy.

It is only in the last decade that sustainable energy has become a consideration for SIDS. The 2013 Achieving Sustainable Energy for All at the SIDS Conference, held in Barbados, concluded with the adoption of the Barbados Declaration. The declaration acknowledges the importance of sustainable energy to SIDS by discussing the dependence on imported oil and other fossil fuels for transport and electricity, as well as the resulting economic vulnerability. A plan has been drafted and set in motion and we must now ensure that the objectives are accomplished.

SIDS Lyn-Marie Blackman

Lyn-Marie Blackman, 27, Barbados

Development is a word that has been in use from time immemorial to describe the economic and social landscape of our communities. We are all striving to develop in some way or fashion in our lives. SIDS are a group of islands that have been striving for such development – they are faced with social, economic and environmental vulnerabilities.

As of 2013, youth unemployment in Barbados stood at 30 per cent and general unemployment at 11.6 per cent. For a country of our size, this is not good. Will the amount of investment on the way cause a reduction in these figures?

Many of our young people have branched off into entrepreneurship during the recession, but securing funding has been proving difficult. This has caused many of our young men to go into crime as a way to access a source of income. As well as that, we have seen many of our young women delving into providing unethical services to succeed in life, an alternative which has spurred the growth in health issues including STDs.

How do we move on from here? Having our representatives engage in dialogue continually at conferences?

The formula is “Delegates + Citizens’ concerns + Genuine Partnerships = Success despite challenges”.

SIDS Fale Lesa

Fale Lesa, 24, New Zealand/Samoa

SIDS are a community of low-lying island nations that share common barriers to development. Samoa is on the cusp of change. At the beginning of 2014, we graduated from UN Least Developed Countries status. It marks the beginning of a transformation that depends largely on the community.

In 1962 Samoa became the first island in Polynesia to declare her independence from New Zealand. Unfortunately, initial good times were short-lived. In 1990 Samoa was struck by Cyclone Ofa, leaving a quarter of the population homeless overnight. A year later, Cyclone Val devastated the island causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. Hopelessness encouraged an exodus, and my parents were among the thousands who fled for nearby New Zealand. But ties to the homeland were never severed.

If I were prime minister, I would disaster-proof all construction projects in Samoa from this point forward. I would ban all construction projects on coastlines with no exception. I would only allow donor countries to build schools and hospitals in partnership with local tradesmen to avoid having to send for someone from China or Japan to fulfil repair jobs or much-needed maintenance further down the track.

I hear it often, the belief that “this is as good as it gets” for an island in the middle of nowhere. I detest the resignation. My father, and the thousands that left with him, detested it too.

SIDS Shomira Sanyal

Shomira Sanyal, 20, India

The process of evolution, spanning millions of years, has led to a fascinating diversity in fauna and flora on the planet. An interesting group among these are the endemic species occurring on various islands. With restrictive habitats, however, most of these species lack the ability to adapt to rapid changes in the surrounding environment, and are therefore at risk from fluctuating conditions brought about by various anthropogenic and environmental pressures.

Besides contributing towards maintaining a stable ecosystem, endemic species are beneficial to the inhabitants of these islands in that they are an important economic resource. In addition to being utilised for consumption, many island species promote tourism, which contributes to the revenue of their respective island economies. Marine resources, in this regard, are often more beneficial than terrestrial resources and, if utilised properly, could contribute effectively to sustainable development.

With the inhabitants of SIDS heavily dependent on biodiversity resources for their survival and income, it is imperative that steps are taken now to protect this rich heritage. Coral reef restoration, stricter laws pertaining to wildlife protection, strategies for coastal zone protection and ecologically sound land reclamation practices need to be advocated to prevent these island nations from environmental threats to their existence.

SIDS Khadija

Khadija Holder, 24, Trinidad and Tobago

I am woman. I am youth. I am a small islander.

In a world where we are often framed by our characteristics instead of our character, what do the elements of me that I see beauty in mean for my future? For other youths in SIDS? Other women? Others vulnerable to social stigma and threats because of age, gender or birthplace – attributes not chosen but given? Youths in SIDS are faced with issues such as poor access to quality education, unemployment, sexual abuse, drugs, suicide and violence at home, school, in the community. They must deal with poverty, illiteracy, incest, sexually transmitted diseases, human trafficking, malnutrition and physical disabilities. SIDS need business incubators that motivate innovation and entrepreneurship in value-added sectors and green business, healthy environmental practices, transparency, accountability and strengthened youth representation, along with women’s involvement in governance. They require national legislation that mandates gender equality in top organisational positions, affordable and accessible education, and an overarching multi-sector partnership.

Notwithstanding this, we must each take personal account of our lifestyles, as our future is reliant upon us.

SIDS Steph Carter

Stephanie Carter, 24, Australia

In May 2014 the #YesAllWomen social media campaign took flight on Twitter, a grass-roots response to the 2014 Isla Vista killings and other publicised acts of discrimination and gendered violence towards women. In a watershed moment, women globally used Twitter as a vehicle for revolutionising the way society talks about sexual discrimination and gender inequality. This raised awareness of women’s shared experiences and quickly garnered international media attention. But, as quickly as it had come, the #YesAllWomen conversation had gone out with the social media tide. The conversation was over before many groups of women were able to participate, including those facing the most critical forms of social exclusion and disempowerment.

As a young Australian re-imagining the boundaries of the #YesAllWomen message for the post-2015 development agenda, nowhere is this more relevant than in our own backyard. For the SIDS of the Pacific, the need for collaboration around gender equality and sustainable results is acutely felt.

#YesAllWomen – let’s continue the conversation.

To learn more about the Commonwealth Correspondents, a youth network supported by the Commonwealth Young Programme, visit the webpage at


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