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Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
colbartn.gif (4535 octets)

Coastal region and small island papers 13

Rubbish dump in San 
Andres, 2002.

House in the island of San Andres, Colombia, 2002.

4. Emerging environment and development issues

The islanders [of the San Andres Archipelago] are descendants of English settlers and the slaves they brought with them from Jamaica. In addition there have been more recent migrations from nearby islands such as Cayman Islands.

This is why the inhabitants of these islands proudly preserve their Afro-Caribbean identity, which differentiates them from Colombia’s other black communities and which is expressed in their language, religious beliefs, oral tradition, cuisine, kinship, music, a special approach to analysing reality through dreams, and in general a different way of relating to the world around them.

Since the end of the 18th century there has been a cultural and religious conflict which continues to this day, because Spain, and then Colombia, have tried to convert a culture with strong Afro-Anglo-Protestant roots into a Spanish and Catholic one. For the islanders, government attempts to eliminate their native language and replace their religion have always been regarded as an attack on their culture, and only now, with new constitutional rights on religious freedom and respect for cultural diversity, do they feel they can be Colombian without losing the Afro-Anglo-Caribbean identity’.

(Gloria Triana, 1995)

One of the main objectives of Small Islands Voice is to find out the general public’s concerns in the environment-development arena in small islands. In this initiative, environment is defined in a wide sense and includes the natural, social, cultural and economic environment. While SIDS have developed their own prioritized programme of action, which will be discussed further in the next chapter, Small Islands Voice has adopted a ‘blank sheet’ approach in determining islanders’ concerns.Thus activities and surveys are being conducted with this in mind.

Surveys and activities

Various capacity-building activities have been undertaken in 2002 which have laid a solid foundation for Small Islands Voice.These have included the establishment of national coordinating committees encompassing a broad range of civil society. Islands have adopted different approaches, some with large formal committees and others adopting a more informal, low-key approach.The committees then design, organize and implement various activities.

In all the start-up islands, opinion surveys have been conducted to interview islanders and find out their concerns.The idea of the surveys is that they should cover a representative 1% of the country’s population, and focus, through open-ended questions, on past changes, future changes, major issues of concern and how the general public sees its role in decision-making on environment and development issues. During the first quarter of 2002, a sample survey form was developed and tested in St Kitts and Nevis and in Seychelles. Based on the findings and results of this trial survey, islands developed their own survey questions. These are all available on the Small Islands Voice website, together with details on how the surveys were conducted and the outcomes.The survey form used in St Kitts and Nevis is included as an example in Annex V. In general, people responded positively to the surveys.

‘Feedback from survey workers suggested that more people could have been interviewed (the sample population was limited to 1% of the population); several persons indicated they would have liked to take part but were not asked’.

Alain De Comarmond, Seychelles, November 2002.

Interview in progress
in St Kitts, 2002.


The survey was conducted in whatever language people felt most comfortable with; in Seychelles it was Creole, and in some of the outer islands of the Cook Islands it was Cook Island Maori. Results and reports have been documented in English, so that everyone can share in the findings.

In the case of St Kitts and Nevis, Seychelles and Palau, the survey concentrated on civil society in general. In the Cook Islands, a first survey focused on youth in Rarotonga and Aitutaki, and a second survey covered youth and communities in the outer islands. In St Vincent and the Grenadines, the survey focused on youth.Table 1 contains the logistical details concerning the surveys in each island.


Island Date of survey Number of People Surveyed

Sampled Population

St Kitts and Nevis, Caribbean
Trial survey
Results available at:
Full survey
Results available at:

Feb ’02

Oct–Nov ‘02



all society

all society
St Vincent and the Grenadines, Caribbean
School survey
Results available at:

Oct ‘02


Seychelles, Indian Ocean
Trial survey 
Results available at:
Full survey
Results available at:

Mar ‘02

Oct ‘02



all society

all society

Cook Islands, Pacific
School survey – Rarotonga and Aitutaki  
Results available at:
School and community survey – outer islands
Results available at:

Jul ‘02

Sep–Oct ‘02




all society
Palau, Pacific, outer islands
Full survey
Results available at:

Jan ‘03
all society

Other activities are also being undertaken to determine the general public’s views. For instance in the Cook Islands, a Small Islands Voice Newsletter is published and circulated free to schools in the country.The first two issues published in 2002 (issue 1, issue 2) focused on informing young people about Small Islands Voice, and future issues will concentrate on feedback and views from youth and communities especially in the outer islands. In St Kitts and Nevis, a mobile display board has been constructed which is exhibited at national events, e.g. the inter-school Science Fair, Emancipation Day celebrations, to provide information about specific issues. The general public then comment on these issues via suggestion boxes. In Seychelles, meetings and workshops have been held to determine the concerns of specific target groups, e.g. youth workers.

Ms Dauna Manchester
viewing the display
board set up at the
public library in
St Kitts, 2002.


The activities described above are just the start of a wider effort, which will require the full support of local media, in order to discuss, debate and determine the views and concerns of the general public on environment and development issues.

Official launch of the Small Islands 
Voice Project in St Kitts and Nevis

2002 (left to right: Mr Halstead
Byron, Hon. Dr Timothy Harris, 
Mrs Hélène Gosselin, Ms Dauna 

Issues of concern to civil society

Based on the opinion surveys and other activities in specific islands, and discussions at the workshop, several issues of concern to the general public can be identified.These are listed below in no prioritized order, and reflect only a first impression. Once the full results of all the surveys are obtained, it is anticipated that the list will require substantial revision.

The importance and relevance of many of these issues differs from island to island and from country to country.

Foreign labour, employment and migration

The importation of foreign labour creates a variety of problems.There are more than 4,000 foreign workers in Palau, out of a total population of 20,000. Many businesses prefer foreign workers who can work longer hours and who do not have the same traditional obligations as Palauans. Similarly, in Seychelles, many foreign workers from Africa, India, China and the Philippines are employed in construction and the fish canning industry, and these foreign migrants cause conflicts. Foreign workers often do not have citizenship rights and are excluded from most or all benefits.They work for very low salaries, and are highly vulnerable to abuse, as the threat of termination and repatriation can be made at any time.

‘People are concerned about unemployment. Sometimes people don’t want to work, but they see migrants as displacing their job opportunities’.

Sabrina Marie, Seychelles, November 2002.

The San Andres Archipelago, a district of Colombia, experiences related problems. Migration from the Colombian mainland to the islands started in the 1950s when a free port was created, and has resulted in the marginalization of the native community, especially in San Andres itself where mainland Colombians outnumber the native population by 3 to 1.

‘Nowadays the hotels and tourism sector prefer to hire people from outside the islands as they are thought to work harder. Initiatives are now underway to limit such hiring practices, and CORALINA tries to ensure stakeholders are involved in the decision-making process’.

June-Marie Mow, San Andres, November 2002.

A different but related issue concerns migration and the ‘brain drain’. Outward migration has been experienced in the Cook Islands since the 1970s, and the population has decreased by 30% since the severe economic crisis in 1996. Cook Islanders migrate to New Zealand where they have the right to live and work as citizens.There is a process of migration, first of all from the outer islands to Rarotonga and then from Rarotonga to New Zealand.When asked whether the 60,000 Cook Islanders living in New Zealand and Australia might return, Bruce Gray replied:

‘We have the space but not the facilities for them. But they won’t come back. Youth want to explore the world and the elderly want medical care, which as Cook Islanders they are entitled to in New Zealand.’

Bruce Gray, Cook Islands, November 2002.

Young people in particular need a reason to stay in the outer Cook Islands or the communities will disappear over time. One of the issues related to migration is the need for a measure of autonomy in the outer islands so that they can determine their own future.This is being achieved to some extent; for instance the Island Council in Aitutaki has been effective in blocking unwanted coastal development. Life in the outer islands has its own pace.

‘Life in Mitiaro is very traditional, very Polynesian. The population is 238 and there is just one guesthouse. Respect is very important and local customs such as going to church on Sundays must be followed’.

Maarametua Murare, Cook Islands, November 2002.

Autonomy is also an issue in other regions and other islands, e.g. St Kitts and Nevis, where there is a movement in Nevis to gain independence from the Federation of St Kitts and Nevis.

Recruitment of professionals, especially nurses and teachers by countries such as the USA, is a small but growing problem in St Kitts and Nevis, and also regionally.When better salaries and conditions are offered abroad, it is very difficult for small islands to compete. In many of the Caribbean islands, unemployment rates are high, generating a growing concern about jobs and job security, especially in view of the high cost of living. In Seychelles, there was concern about the shortage of foreign exchange.

Increased crime and erosion of culture

The general public in St Kitts and Nevis are most concerned about the increase in crime and violence experienced in their communities. During the St Kitts and Nevis opinion survey, conducted in October/November 2002, members of the public made reference to increased theft, gang violence, drug use and a breakdown in the moral fibre of society (Lake and Byron, 2002).

In the Pacific countries represented at the workshop, issues arise as a result of a shift to western and more materialistic values which tend to erode traditional systems and practices. As an example:

‘Only Palauans can own land, and now we see fights breaking out between family members because foreign developers promise large amounts of cash to Palauan individuals’.

Joe Chilton, Palau, November 2002.

Changes can be seen too in Pacific islanders’ eating habits. As a result of foreign advertising and food importation, many Palauans now have an American style diet and suffer from diabetes and other diseases. The decline of Palauan agriculture has contributed to this; and there is a common perception that agriculture and gardening is women’s work. Changes in traditional family dynamics have led to an increase in suicide. In the high schools, there is less and less art and Palauans are losing their creativity even as they become more technologically advanced.

Growth of tourism

The expansion of tourism brings its own problems as 
condominiums cover the hillside at South Frigate Bay, St Kitts, 1995...

...and hotels line the shoreline, North Frigate Bay, St Kitts, 1999.

Cruise ships bring increasing 
numbers of tourists to many 
islands on a daily basis: 
Cruise ship at Basseterre, 
St Kitts, 2002.

Cruise ship visitors at the 
Botanical Gardens, Seychelles, 

The growth of tourism is another issue identified by the islands as being of concern. Here the contrasts are most marked, ranging from Mitiaro in the Cook Islands which welcomes just 13 tourists a month and the benefits are shared among all the families, to San Andres which receives 350,000 package tourists per year from the Colombian mainland and is seeing many of its resources depleted (e.g. freshwater supplies), and its facilities over-used (e.g. solid waste disposal sites).

Education and governance

There is a need to improve education so it addresses islanders’ needs, both youth and other sectors of society.

‘When we talk of education, we must not think only of children and youth, but also those who would guide and help them’.

Matthew Servina Seychelles, November 2002.

The National Legislature in Palau 
(Olbiil Era Kelulau), 2002.

Good governance was another issue that workshop participants discussed in some detail, particularly the traditional system of government that exists in many of the Pacific islands. And while most Pacific islands also have elected, democratic governments, the traditional system which is related very much to place of origin plays an important role. Some Caribbean islanders expressed the wish for such a system in their region.

‘In the Pacific, we do have traditional governments in the islands. This makes a huge difference in comparison to western countries. We have a ‘fourth wing’ of government that often has more impact at the community level than does the elected government’.

Tiare Holm, Palau, November 2002.

‘Palau has maintained a system of ‘checks and balances’ for three thousand years. Palauan culture is a living organism which has to evolve and develop. Thankfully, the core values of Palau have been retained even in the face of very persistent outside influence’.

Joe Aitaro, Palau, November 2002.

Palau, although a new and fairly small nation, formed an Ethics Commission two years ago. One of the key reasons for passing the Ethics Act was to limit the foreign influence on the country and to ensure that the government system was not abused. Due to its proximity to Asia, Palau is perhaps more vulnerable to the influence of large neighbouring nations than are other more remote Pacific island countries.

Solid waste management and natural environmental issues

Various environmental issues were identified, and while many of these varied from island to island, solid waste management was common to all and some interesting solutions were discussed.

‘When involved in projects dealing with landfills and recycling, we cannot allow ourselves to be profit-driven in the small island context. We recycle aluminium, plastic and glass in the Cook Islands; the aluminium is sent to New Zealand and brings in a small income. It took us two years to put the programme together. We worked from the community level up’.

Bruce Gray, Cook Islands, November 2002.

Climate change and global warming were also mentioned as issues. These are particularly a concern in the flat, low-lying islands, which are especially vulnerable to sea level rise and to storms. Other natural environmental concerns included deforestation and land reclamation in Seychelles, invasive plant species in Palau, beach erosion in the Cook Islands.

Proposals to address issues of concern

During the inter-regional workshop, participants worked in small groups to develop activities which would address some of the concerns discussed.Their proposals were as follows:

Present a unified front for small islands
Small islands need to present a strong, unified front with a shared voice, whilst also respecting differences and diversity.

Implement good governance
Good governance requires a shared vision and a framework for collaborative decision-making involving government and civil society.This will include educating and empowering women, youth and children to participate fully in the process.

Promote self-sufficiency
In order to ensure development is sustainable in a world undergoing globalization, promote an overall ethic for self-sufficiency by implementing wise practices in population growth, economic consumption and energy use.

Strengthen social responsibilities and ethical codes
Halt the decline in the moral and social fabric of society which creates a weakening of values and increased crime and violence, by developing, strengthening and enforcing social responsibilities, codes of conduct, and codes of ethics.

Preserve traditions and culture
Maintain, and in some cases restore, identity, dignity and self-esteem, by ensuring traditions and culture are preserved and citizenship is respected.

Improve education systems
Reverse the trend of current education systems which produce individuals with limited aspirations and opportunities, by improving and strengthening job training modules, job placement programmes, mentoring, career guidance programmes, and school curricula.

Prepare for climate change at a local and global level
Since climate change is a local and global responsibility, ensure island populations are fully informed about the factors influencing climate change; include climate change as an integral part of national development plans; and hold governments around the globe, particularly in high income nations, responsible for their activities that impact climate change.

Issues of concern to youth

Obviously, youth are a very important part of civil society, and for this reason their views have been separated out from those of the general public. Based on the discussions at the workshop, as well as national surveys and workshops targeting youth in the Cook Islands, Seychelles and St Vincent and the Grenadines, preliminary issues identified as being of concern to youth are listed below, although not in any prioritized order:

Teenage pregnancy and health issues

Teenage pregnancy is a serious concern to youth in all the islands.

‘If you have a 14-year-old mother, what can she teach her child? Only what she knows at 14. When this mother reaches 18 and finds a new boyfriend, the child is often forgotten and neglected’.

Lornette Hanley, St Kitts and Nevis, November 2002.

Early sexual activity is often seen as prestigious for young men and this exposes them to serious health risks. HIV-AIDS is a serious concern in all the islands.

‘In Palau, teenage pregnancies are almost a tradition – the kids are then raised by the grandparents. This has to change, starting with the (grand)parents’.

Jonathan Isechal, Palau, November 2002.

Other aspects of sexual behaviour which are of concern include incest, molestation, common prejudices with regard to homosexuality, indecent dress and a rise in prostitution among schoolgirls.

The islands are attempting to tackle these problems in a variety of ways through youth activities, education and family life programmes. For instance, in Seychelles, the government provides some measure of support to girls after having their first baby so that they can continue their school studies.

Young males at risk

Another issue that figured prominently in the discussions and in many of the surveys too was that young males are particularly at risk and are more likely to drop out of the education system. In some of the archipelagos, e.g. Palau and Cook Islands, where the outer islands have no secondary schools, the dropout rate amongst males and females may be very high. It was generally agreed that it is much harder to keep boys in the school system after the age of about 14 years.

‘In St Kitts and Nevis, and in other Caribbean islands also, parenting leaves much to be desired. Parents often focus on protecting girls and they leave boys to their own devices; young men are lured to drugs by promises of money and material goods’.

Dauna Manchester, St Kitts and Nevis, November 2002.

Various efforts are being made to target males at risk, but with limited success.This is due to the fact that often the males who abandon the school system do not take part in organized youth activities, programmes or sports. Technical and vocational courses, special skills training, acting and music groups are all being tried in an effort to address this problem.

Community violence, substance abuse and employment

Closely linked to this issue of young males at risk are other issues of community violence and unemployment, again prevalent in all the islands. Specific concerns about violence were expressed by the youth in St Vincent and the Grenadines and included gang rapes, violence in sports, profanity, gossip and peer pressure. Increased violence is also closely linked to the drug culture that is emerging in many islands. Other issues include child abuse, which is of concern but often not talked about openly. Youth need to see good role models in their communities and it is up to every individual to take action to save their societies.

Several youth employment programmes exist in the islands. In Seychelles, a programme exists to place youth on a six-month internship with an employer for skills development, after which the individual may be employed permanently. There are also national youth centres in Seychelles which provide trained staff, counselling, information and computer facilities for youth. St Kitts and Nevis has a youth skills programme where young people are trained for the job market and six-week internships are offered. However, the job market is extremely limited in small islands.

Lack of sporting facilities

One issue identified as contributing to many of the youth’s concerns was the lack of entertainment and sports facilities in many of the islands.

‘Many sports are popular in St Kitts and Nevis; however, the full potential of our youth is not realized due to a poverty of opportunities and facilities. Hurricane Georges destroyed many sports facilities.’

Samal Duggins, St Kitts and Nevis, November 2002.

‘There is not much to do at weekends and youth need alternatives to parties and drinking’.

Patricia Black and Jesse Mangham, Palau, November 2002.

Natural environmental issues

M-Dock dumpsite, Koror, Palau, 2002.

Signs such as these in Nevis (left) and Anguilla (top) show evidence of efforts to solve the littering problem, 2002.

Among the environmental issues identified by youth, particularly in the Cook Islands and St Vincent and the Grenadines, was the problem of littering and solid waste disposal. Ironically, participants attending the inter-regional workshop in Palau were reminded of this issue every day as they had to pass Palau’s main dumpsite, the M-Dock dump, on their way to the workshop venue. 

Proposals to address issues of concern to youth

Youth participants at the inter-regional workshop developed a list of activities to assist in solving many of the problems discussed above with a particular focus on youth at risk:

Final remarks

The six areas that were prioritized for immediate attention by SIDS in 1999 relate to climate change, natural disasters, freshwater, coastal and marine resources, energy and tourism. (These are discussed further in the next chapter.) For the most part, they focus on natural environmental issues. It is therefore especially interesting to see that the preliminary list of issues of concern to island residents, based at least in part on opinion surveys of island residents, focus primarily on social concerns, governance and education. It will be interesting to follow the debates and discussions in the islands in the future, to see if this emphasis is maintained.


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