SMALL ISLAND DEVELOPING STATES (SIDS) have always faced a range of particular challenges and vulnerabilities – isolation, limited land, and shortage of resources – which rendered the pursuit of sustainable development to be more complex. Recently, climate change effects such as sea level rise, coastal erosion and extreme weather events have added another level of difficulty for SIDS as their abilities to adapt to these monumental changes on their own are rather limited. The International Year for the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in 2014, which has been launched this week, aims at mobilizing international interest and support for sustainable development in these small islands states.
The GEF Small Grants Programme (SGP) has been working with local communities in SIDS over twenty years to revitalize terrestrial, coastal and marine ecosystems, while also improving their livelihoods. In 2011, SGP and its partner Australian Aid launched a designated Community-Based Adaptation (CBA) programme for SIDS to further complement GEF support and help island communities build resilience to climate change. Drawing upon an active portfolio of projects in all SIDS regions - the Pacific; the Caribbean; and the Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Seas (AIMS) - SGP is pleased to join the international efforts by highlighting the environmental conservation efforts and results achieved by the communities it supports.
The following are a few examples of SGP's work with local communities in various SIDS regions:
In the Caribbean, a fishing cooperative located near the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System - a World Heritage Site - had been experiencing a dramatic decline in fish catch and wild seaweed harvests. Alarmed, the cooperative initiated a pilot project to develop sustainable seaweed farms which serve as an alternative livelihood activity during the slow tourist season and reduce fishing pressure in and around the reserve. The project was carried out with the support of SGP in the context of its Community Management of Protected Areas Conservation Programme (COMPACT) which had already done extensive work in the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve area.
Diligent monitoring of the farms revealed that they had a positive effect on the 10,514 hectare reserve as they created a natural habitat for other marine species such as squids, shrimp, lobster, conch and sea cucumber. The cooperative was revitalized through trainings in seaweed processing, business planning and marketing. It has already attracted interest of foreign companies and is fully engaged in Belize's Seaweed Cultivation Policy currently under development. The project has since been replicated with the support of COMPACT, the Nature Conservancy and USAID/MAREA in various other areas.
In the central Atlantic Ocean, two communities in Cape Verde which rely on rain-fed agriculture as their primary source of livelihood, sought to reduce their vulnerability to drought and other climate change related effects. The SGP project, which was implemented within the larger framework of an ongoing regional GEF project, supported the construction of a new water infrastructure improving both household access to water and opportunities to develop the agricultural sector through micro-irrigation. The community water fountains were a huge relief for the women and children, who had to walk 5-6 km to collect water before the project. They can now devote more time to income generating activities, farming and education.
The communities' resilience to climate change was further strengthened through Vulnerability Reduction Assessments (VRA), which helped them better understand climate effects in their area and identify adaptation responses. This was followed by training and discussion sessions that addressed critical issues such as land access and conservation issues and effective use of water for domestic and farming purposes. In addition to strengthening community resilience and social cohesion, this process helped mainstream climate change considerations into daily life, which has become a key aspect of community decision-making processes.
In the South Pacific, SGP helped a Samoan community conserve the Savaia Marine Reserve, which was threatened by nearby over-fishing and unsustainable harvesting practices. The project extended the reserve's boundaries of protection and reintroduced certain marine species that were once abundant in the area. In addition, village capacities were strengthened through a sustainable harvesting plan, improved monitoring and establishment of village by-laws for the reserve.
The project helped lead the reserve's corals towards full recovery and improved fish catches from the fringes of the reserve which serves as a critical refuge and spawning ground. The project has not only drawn attention of local media and various high-ranking officials, including GEF's Chief Executive Officer, but also received Samoa's "Best Marine Protected Area Award" and "Best Giant Clam Award". A follow-up project has since developed an eco-tourism infrastructure and a giant clam hatchery to provide additional sustainable livelihood opportunities.
Globally, local communities in the SIDS have gained SGP's support for more than 2,300 projects and received more than USD 61 Million in SGP grant funding. Over the last ten years, SGP has seen a sharp increase in its work with SIDS communities, with the number of projects tripling and the amount of funding increasing five fold since 2002.