Policy and integrated management Environment

Posted October 1999

Status of environment and natural resources in Small Island Developing States

by Nadia Scialabba
Environment Officer
Environment and Natural Resource Service
Research, Extension and Training Division
From "Environment and Natural Resources in Small Island Developing States", prepared for the Special Ministerial Conference On Agriculture In Small Island Developing States (Rome, 12 March 1999). The full document (152K) is available at http://www.fao.org/docrep/meeting/X1011e.htm (summary available in French and Spanish)


Small Island Developing States (SIDS) vary enormously according to distinct bio-physical, socio-cultural and economic characteristics. Their efforts for sustainable development are, however, constrained by common disadvantages such as limited natural resources, fragility of ecosystems, vulnerability to natural hazards, and peculiar population dynamics.

While most SIDS have a total population between 100 000 and 700 000 inhabitants, six countries have a population of less than 100 000 (the lowest being the Cook Islands - 19,343 inhabitants) and six countries have a population exceeding one million (the highest being Cuba - 11 million). Population growth rate varies from a minimum of 0.24 percent (Barbados) to a maximum of 3.56 percent (Comoros). All except five of the SIDS have a land area of less than 30 000 square km (the largest SIDS is Papua New Guinea - 451 710 square km).

SIDS may comprise a single island (e.g. Barbados), a few islands (e.g. Cape Verde - 15), numerous islands (e.g. Maldives - 1 200), or a low-lying coastal state (e.g. Suriname). Terrain varies from low oceanic islands, including atolls and reef islands, to high volcanic, limestone or continental islands (including low-lying coastal states). Many SIDS are located in the tropics and fall within the influence of tropical storms and cyclones. Therefore, they are prone to extreme weather events, and most are influenced by the El Niņo Southern Oscillation (and associated high inter-annual variations in rainfall) and long-term increase in mean sea level.

Economic activities are frequently dominated by specialized agriculture (e.g. sugar) and by tourism, both of which are influenced by climatic factors. Primary production (agriculture, forestry and capture fisheries) is an important source of export earnings in many SIDS but much of agricultural activity is of subsistence type. The resource base for agriculture (arable land, permanent crops, meadows and pastures) vary from 0.3 percent (Suriname) to 73 percent (Tonga) of land use. The contribution of the agricultural sector to the GDP varies from 1 percent (Bahrain) to 50 percent (Samoa). Forests and woodlands are economically important in about one third of SIDS, where they occupy 40 percent to 94.4 percent of land use. SIDS maritime claims, however, are very large (especially in the Pacific) and extend to approximately one-sixth of the earth surface. Marine resources are not limited to fish resources but include also mineral deposits and hydrocarbons.

Natural resources


As stated in the 1994 Declaration of Barbados "scarce land resources lead to difficult land and agriculture decisions". Land resources suffer from intense competition between land use options, high population density, customary ownership (and correlated land tenure disputes) and emigration. This leads to difficult application of legislation to protect resources or making land unavailable for production purposes. Poor transport and communication infrastructure put additional constraints on land tenure legislation. Furthermore, limited human resources and out-migration negatively impacts the regular maintenance of cadasters, land registries and records.

Pressure put on land leads to erosion that is often accelerated by natural disasters, deforestation, inappropriate agricultural practices, and pollution. Precious arable land is lost to erosion (e.g. 15 000 ha/year in Haiti [1]). Many SIDS cities lack adequate treatment of solid wastes and waste recycling is still in its early stages and not yet economically viable. The extraction and refinement of mineral resources such as gold (Fiji), manganese (Vanuatu), bauxite (Haiti), phosphate (Nauru) and oil (Trinidad and Tobago) exacerbate pollution. Islands with sloping areas have little access to appropriate technologies to extend land use for sustainable farming on steep slopes.

Land use planning and management should capitalize on customary cultures. Traditional, value-based, decision-making systems can be successfully reinforced with technical decision-support and information systems, and land use negotiation and conflict management. An integrated approach to planning and management of resources can be achieved through comprehensive land-use plans. In Pacific SIDS, integrated approaches to resource management are identified within the framework of National Environment Management Strategies. More specifically, multi-purpose resource management (for example, forests) and integrated and diversified production systems enhance sustainable natural resources conservation and use while increasing resilience.

Forests and tree resources

Land area covered with forests varies a great deal among SIDS, ranging from 94.4 percent in Suriname to less than 1 percent in Haiti. As a group however, SIDS are well endowed with forests but annual deforestation is almost three times higher than the world average (0.8 percent compared with 0.3 percent). An analysis of country forest cover between 1990 and 1995[2] shows that almost half of SIDS (17 countries) have experienced deforestation (with rates of annual change in their forest cover varying from -0.1 to -7.2 percent per year), nine have maintained the same forest cover over the five-year period, and only Cape Verde has increased its cover by a rate of 24 percent per year (as result of plantation establishment).

The main causes of deforestation include conversion of forested land to agricultural use and for infrastructure development. Some SIDS are experiencing significant forest degradation due to over-exploitation of their timber resources. Timber production represents a large percentage of some SIDS export revenues (56 percent in Solomon Islands in 1993) and has an evident economic value. It is important, however, to recognize that, even when SIDS are poorly endowed with forest resources, trees (such as on agricultural lands or agroforestry systems) often play a very important role for soil conservation (especially on less fertile soils such as in coral-based SIDS), fresh water circulation and local livelihoods. Deforestation and forest degradation affect not only the socio-economic well-being of local populations but also the environmental conditions on the islands and the surrounding marine ecosystems. Although forests such as mangroves and tidal forests have an important role in the marine food web and in protecting coastal habitats, they are increasingly being lost to tourism and land development.

Loss of forests in SIDS may have far more serious impacts than in other larger countries due to intensified interactions within a limited geographical space and to the loss of endemic species and rare ecosystems. In addition, the protective functions of forests are particularly important in many SIDS.

The valuation of goods and services provided by forests (e.g. timber and non-timber forest products, habitat for biological diversity, watershed protection, and carbon sequestration) can demonstrate the economic value of forests and assist decision-making and land-use planning. Given the multiple uses and functions of forests in SIDS, there is need for national forest policies to be integrated better into larger natural resources management frameworks at the national level.


In low-lying oceanic SIDS, diversity and endemism are often low. In the mid-altitude volcanic and/or limestone SIDS, species diversity may be either high or low, but endemism is usually high. More than 30 percent of the higher plant species of Mauritius, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Fiji, and more than 20 percent of the bird species of Solomon Islands and Fiji, are endemic.

Because of their small size and high level of endemism, biodiversity in SIDS is among the most threatened in the world. Deforestation, unsustainable forestry, fisheries and agricultural practices, unmanaged tourism, introduction of exotic species, mining (especially of coral), pollution and natural events (e.g. hurricanes) are the main threats to biodiversity. In particular, global warming and sea level rise pose significant hazards to many SIDS because of the consequently reduced land area. Habitat destruction is also due to inevitable infrastructure development such as urban settlements, industries, ports, and anti-erosion coastal protection works.

Measures to mitigate biodiversity losses require a more general effort to combat environmental degradation and pollution. Agro-biodiversity and the status and trends of biological diversity in natural ecosystems (e.g. forests, aquatic ecosystems and living aquatic resources) need to be assessed as well as mechanisms for the equitable sharing of benefits from the conservation and use of genetic resources. Community-based management systems and related land and fishing rights in supporting food systems are important. Biodiversity conservation should therefore build on customary land and reef tenure systems. Additional conservation strategies may need to be employed, such as marine protected areas and habitat restoration.

Fresh water

Hydrological variability and distribution and availability of freshwater is associated with climate variability and changes in precipitation. The availability of water resources is also directly linked to land-use patterns. Deforestation and inappropriate logging and agricultural practice upland often trigger floods.

Several SIDS (e.g. Bahrain, Barbados, Cape Verde, Malta) experience fresh water shortage. In atoll countries in particular, the water supply and demand is critical. The lack of effective delivery systems and waste treatment, coupled with population growth and expanding tourism, contribute to water over-abstraction and contamination (e.g. Haiti does not yet have a centralized system of water collection and treatment, nor a facility for water quality analysis). Sea-level rise and tidal variation contribute to salt-water intrusion in already scarce water resources.

Efficient water use and management is closely linked with land use, waste recycling and treatment, and resolving conflicts between competitive and antagonistic uses of water. Freshwater consumption trends and forecasts, and development and management responses should consider the water requirements of all sectors, including agriculture. There is need for an integrated policy approach (with the attendant legislation and institutional framework) that involves all economic sectors.

Freshwaters and associated habitats are important not only because they provide for freshwater fish production, based on available living aquatic resources, but also because they can be very significant due to characteristic or distinct patterns of aquatic biodiversity and aquatic genetic resources found in such water bodies. Changes in freshwater habitats may affect freshwater fish production and aquatic biodiversity.

Coastal and marine resources

SIDS have the responsibility for a significant portion of the world's oceans but have limited means to manage adequately their marine resources. Exploitation by foreign fleets under licensing agreements is often unchecked and inshore and reef fisheries are not properly managed. As a result, many fishery resources are over-exploited, conflicts arise between competitive marine resources use (e.g. fisheries and tourism), and coastal habitats are being degraded. In particular, mangroves and coral reefs are being destroyed, leading to loss of habitat for associated species and thus, loss of important food supply and source of revenue. Outstripping of sand and aggregate materials (used for construction and landfill) is further depleting resources.

Reef ecosystems are highly sensitive to temperature changes as a consequence of global warming. In particular, there is an increased incidence of coral bleaching associated with elevated water temperature. In 1998, abnormally high sea temperatures are thought to have bleached and killed much of the corals in the Indian Ocean (Maldives has been particularly impacted), and also in many areas of the Western and Eastern Pacific. The survival of coral reefs to temperature and salinity changes is further threatened by human stresses such as nutrient loading and pollution, sedimentation from land-based activities and damage from anchoring of boats. Habitat destruction and pollution of lagoons is already leading to fish stock declines throughout the Pacific.

Further degradation of critical marine habitats and resources should be prevented through the establishment of marine reserves and sound management of resources, possibly through community-based and ecosystem-oriented approaches. National legislation could be enacted to protect inshore fisheries from over-exploitation. However, enforcement of fishery regulations is often difficult.

Energy resources

Fossil fuels typically constitute the largest import item in many SIDS. This makes them vulnerable to increased petroleum prices and places a heavy burden on their balance of payments (e.g. Kiribati). SIDS diseconomy of scale in transport, storage facilities and distribution requires more energy for transportation and power generation than any other country and is a major impediment to economic development and environmental protection.

Lack of food storage capacity (e.g. refrigeration) is one of the main limitations of the local fishing industry. In order to pay for imported petroleum, SIDS have to increase exports of timber, cash crops and marine products. Thus, deforestation, land degradation, and overfishing could be partly attributed to shortages of energy. Collection of firewood causes direct damage to mangroves. Oil products and their wastes (that leak during shipping, handling, storage or electricity generation) pollute marine and coastal waters, land and groundwaters.

With population growth and gradual change from subsistence economies to monetary systems and improved living standards, energy demand is projected to increase, especially in the form of electricity. Efficient use of petroleum and biomass fuels is constrained by limited technology and investments, and reduced recycling of waste and by-products. SIDS potential for solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, ocean thermal conversion and wave energy can be tapped by developing renewable energy technologies and also investing in conventional energy conservation.

Energy from biomass, in the form of fuelwood and agricultural residues, is a feasible energy source in many SIDS (e.g. about 50 percent of total energy use in the Pacific). Besides partly substituting fossil fuels, bioenergy plantations can offer opportunities to rehabilitate degraded lands and can provide a means to combat soil erosion on croplands. In addition, their role in carbon sequestration is substantial. In many SIDS, the high energy consumption and environmental problems posed by the sugar industry could be turned into sustainable energy systems through the production of ethanol.

Making renewable energy available would result in advantages in several ways: it would increase the available energy supply (e.g. in Fiji and Samoa, a large proportion of electricity is generated from small hydropower systems); it would increase employment and income opportunities in rural areas and outer islands (e.g. new avenues for processing seafood); it would improve communication; it would alleviate problems of water supply (solar photovoltaic electric pumps for drinking water already exist in some islands); and it would contribute to reducing pollution (e.g. in the Cook Islands solar electrified pumps are used to dispose of sewage effluent in suitable land areas) [3].

Issues and constraints

Population dynamics

In SIDS, dislocation and poverty tend to be lower than in other countries because of the traditional identification of islanders with their lands (e.g. in Pacific SIDS, most indigenous people have retained ownership of their land, which cannot be traded commercially), subsistence activities (that provide livelihoods to most islanders), and traditional support systems provided by the extended family. Population concerns in SIDS include small population size, very low proportion of active population, and uneven development.

Search for employment opportunities and services drives internal migration towards cities (in Tonga, two thirds of the population is urban). Cities are experiencing a growth twice to three times higher than rural areas. Extremes of dense and sparse settlements constrain the rational use of natural resources (e.g. lagoons and urban areas throughout the Pacific are polluted by faecal coliform, raising public health concerns). High population mobility does not only apply to rural-urban migration but also to other rural destinations (associated with short-term labour migration) and international migration. International migration causes a continuous brain-drain in SIDS but also relieves population pressure (and hence, the demand for provision of employment and services) and generates remittances.

Removing constraints on agricultural and rural development could decrease migration and encourage a more even population distribution, thus reducing the pressure on resources in crowded places (i.e. urban areas) and the resulting ecological damage.

SIDS population analysis for sustainable development should take into account the balance between high human fertility and actual decreased growth rate due to migration, the relatively young active population and corresponding costs for their introduction into the labour market, and the additional pressure on natural resources brought by the tourist residents. Population distribution, structure and mobility have direct links with environment and development. Population scenarios should be incorporated in such plans in order to indicate needs and project demand. This sectoral integration should be coupled with improved national capacity for demographic analysis and strategic planning.

Institutional issues

SIDS are characterized by rich and diverse cultures of indigenous and traditional knowledge but lack a critical mass of qualified scientists and associated institutions. With few exceptions, technical capacities are very low, especially in environmental matters. Although schooling rates are increasing, the rate of higher education remains low. Environmental education, however, has become an element of the primary school curricula of some SIDS (e.g. Barbados, Mauritius, and Bahamas) and regional graduate studies (e.g. University of the South Pacific).

When population is small such as in SIDS, government functions tend to be very expensive per capita due to the fact that certain expenses are not divisible in proportion to the number of users. The difficulty of a sophisticated division of labour (again due to the small population base) is further compounded by brain-drain when specialists develop. Thus, migration and limited availability of funds for training constitute continuous constraints to institutional capacity. Limited scientific infrastructure and technical skills, together with limited human resources, are therefore not commensurate with needs for environmental management and technological innovations.

36. Geographic distances, and economic and demographic dynamics pose major challenges that require a special effort for capacity-building and to retain qualified staff. National institutions could be strengthened, where possible, by regional efforts, following common priorities, to use efficiently resources and information, including traditional knowledge and scientifically-qualified personnel. Regional cooperation is an effective means to reduce certain costs per unit which tend to be high in a small economy.

Environmental goods and services

The high ratio of coastline to land area of SIDS represents important amenity and aesthetic values for tourism and recreation which, in many cases, substantially contribute to the islands' economies. The limited size and isolation of SIDS, however, are also the cause of their fragility to disturbance, both human and natural. In particular, the relationships between inland watersheds and coastal areas are intensified and highly inter-dependant in terms of transfer of organic matter, energy, and living organisms between land and sea systems.

The environmental goods and services of mangroves, tidal forests, sea grass systems, coral reefs, and lagoons are important to the whole island ecosystem. Coral reefs provide valuable functions such as: supply of sand to beaches (and for construction materials) and the formation and maintenance of islands; they are habitats for a variety of marine communities and are major reservoirs of biodiversity; they are centres of primary production by serving as spawning and nursery grounds for numerous reef fish; provision of in situ commercial fishery resources; consolidation and protection of the shoreline by acting as protective barriers to beaches and coasts and by reflecting and dissipating incident wave energy. Functions of mangroves and other coastal forests include: holding soils (which is of prime importance in cases of limestone and coral base islands); providing feeding, breeding and nursery grounds for fisheries; protecting sea grass beds and coral reefs from sediment run-offs; acting as buffers against strong winds, rainfall and storm surges; and protecting agricultural lands from salt sprays.

These environmental goods and services are vital to SIDS survival and ought to be accounted for within development plans. Increased awareness of their value to economic sectors and social well-being would facilitate incorporating environmental measures into sector planning, allocating necessary resources for natural resource conservation and improving decision-making processes for sustainable development.


Vulnerability can be defined as the reduced ability to withstand stress and shocks. SIDS smallness and remoteness largely accounts for their economic vulnerability. The limited population and physical size is a major constraint to economic diversification. Scale diseconomies make them dependent on imports for most of their consumption and investment needs as well as on a narrow range of export products, hence their high vulnerability to external economic shocks.

SIDS geographic location and size accounts for their ecological fragility, particularly to inclemency of weather (e.g. tropical storms) and geological forces (e.g. volcanic eruptions) because when damage occurs, it occurs on a national scale. Epidemics introduced from outside quickly devastate fragile ecosystems and put endemic species at particular risk of extinction. Land erosion, as a result of sea waves and winds, is higher than in other countries because of relatively larger exposure of coasts in relation to land mass. The adverse impact of economic activities (that pervade the entire land area) on the natural environment is felt more than in other countries.

SIDS are subject to cumulative vulnerability to changes in frequency or intensity of extreme events (e.g. floods, droughts, hurricanes, storm surges), other natural hazards (e.g. volcanoes), and anthropogenic stress. Disasters exacerbate economic vulnerability because they create additional costs and divert resources from directly productive activities, let alone when they disrupt the whole economy. Counteracting vulnerability requires a capacity to adapt and to increase resilience that depends on certain features of the economic system. Thus, economic and environmental vulnerability are inter-twined.

Climate change

Climate-related issues include both short-term fluctuations (climate variability) and long-term fluctuations (climate change). Climate variability covers periods from days to years and climate change is characterized by a gradual change of averages.


The threats associated with climate and resulting ecological changes as well as the dominant role of climate fluctuations in food supply are the main factors interfering with SIDS agroclimatic potential, sea level rise, and the accuracy of statistical approaches to weather forecasts. SIDS suffer most from coastal erosion and land loss due to sea-level rise as well as from intrusion of sea-water in groundwater aquifers and lenses and sea-flooding and inundation of low-lying areas. In addition, water resources suffer from tidal variation, altered distribution of upwelling adversely impacts fisheries, and temperature increase cause coral bleaching. Changes in rainfall intensity and extremes increase the scale of flooding, landslides and soil erosion, also because the physical limited size and steepness of SIDS catchments exacerbate their response to rainfall events. For example, in Cuba, El Niņo induced heavy rain and flooding during spring 1998 and the tail-end effects of El Niņo have induced drought during the fall of 1998 that resulted in severe damage to food and export crops.

It is important to note, however, that the impact of climate change by itself is not the greatest threat but it can seriously impinge on collective goods and systems (e.g. food and water security, biodiversity, human health and safety) in conjunction with other stresses, particularly where the adaptive capacity of natural ecosystems has been reduced by anthropogenic actions. Another aspect of climate change that is pertinent to SIDS is that many of the forcing mechanisms and mitigatory actions are external to SIDS. This highlights the need for properly implemented international agreements such as the Convention on Climate Change.

The role of agriculture

Although agriculture is often seen as one of the main victims of climate change, agriculture affects climate through the modification of physical parameters of the environment and emission of greenhouse gases: irrigation modifies the micro- and meso-climate; land clearing modifies the water cycle over large areas; biomass, soil and organic matter are both a source and sink of carbon dioxide; fertilizer use and other agricultural inputs (for example, methyl bromide) contribute to greenhouse gases (namely methane and nitrous oxides).

Within its efforts to improve farmers' capacity to reduce risk and make optimal use of climate variability, FAO develops and improves techniques to increase soil moisture storage, provides advice to farmers on the basis of current weather monitoring (contingency planning and response farming), and assists rural populations in achieving greater resilience and food security under short- and medium-term climate variations. More emphasis is to be given on research and the extension of more flexible farming systems that are tolerant to climatic stresses and variability. The FAO "no regret" approach emphasises measures that should be taken anyway - even in the absence of climate change - because they improve the efficiency of present farming and at the same time, put farmers in a better position to adapt to, or to mitigate, climate variability.

With appropriate supplementation strategies and livestock management, methane production can be decreased. Silvo-pastoral systems not only can reduce methane release but also can contribute to carbon fixation, due to deeper root systems and woody material. In arable farming and grazing, losses of nitrogen-containing nutrients as gases have important impacts on the atmosphere of the huge amounts involved and the catalytic effect of some nitrogenous gases. Improved land and water management techniques in response farming can facilitate the soil/plant/atmosphere exchanges for higher food production that reduce the adverse impact of losses and abatement of emissions.

The role of forests

Accumulation of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change opens new opportunities for the development of forests management, afforestation and reforestation as a major mechanism for carbon substitution (through woodfuel use) and sequestration/reduction (through the use of forests, trees and their derived products - timber). Countries such as Belize, Fiji, and Papua New Guinea have already made joint implementation agreements under the Convention for Climate Change to offset carbon emissions through plantations and forest protection. Other countries like Solomon Islands and Vanuatu are also trying to integrate carbon offset components into forest management projects. Carbon offset projects may offer options for increased investment in forestry, reduced petroleum imports, job creation, institutional capacity and technology transfer, environmental benefits and viable alternative to conflicts over land use. For example, in Fiji, the Sovi Basin, on Viti Levu, has been a 20 000 hectares of forest at the centre of a logging dispute for nearly twenty years. Local landowners have been at times willing to forego logging if they were guaranteed a comparable level of income from alternative sources. Negotiations are currently on-going between landowners to use the area for a carbon offset project.

Forest resources assessment in support to climate change includes generation of information and provision of methodologies and standards. National estimates of forest area and deforestation rates as well as forest volumes and biomass have been assessed in 1995 and are forthcoming for the year 2000. In addition, reports on land cover change processes, biomass fluxes and their trends are established for the period 1990 and 2000. As a contribution to climate change studies and related policies in land use change and forestry, national forest area by ecological zones have been estimated, for use as default values in absence of (better) national data, along with definitions of standards and suggested monitoring methodologies. Particular attention is also given to capacity-building for establishing internationally accepted standards and definitions and developing methodologies to estimate forest area and land cover change, biomass densities (for forest and other land cover types) and biomass fluxes resulting from land cover change.

Information and technology needs

Climate databases and methods are needed to assess, for planning and monitoring purposes, the impact of climate on agriculture and also to monitor the actual and potential impacts of extreme factors, such as those triggered by El Niņo. The assessment of the potential impact of climatic variations and climate change on agro-ecological productive capacity also involves estimating the efficacy of adaptive strategies to provide information, analytical tools and training to scientists, decision-makers and collaborating institutions.

AOSIS is of the view that SIDS have particular technology needs to address climate change issues that focus on modifying mitigation technologies that are low cost, proven, highly secure and offer environmental benefits. To this end, there is need to share and transfer publicly-owned technologies and establish funding arrangements under multi-lateral environment agreements.

Climate change "adaptation" technologies include essentially renewable energy, energy conservation and efficiency requirements, and mitigation measures for saline water intrusion and change in ocean temperature. SIDS are at different stages of their national assessments of their vulnerability to climate change and the potential methods for adaptation to climate change. More in-depth studies, research and analysis are required for more accurate assessments at national and regional levels.

Natural disasters

With few exceptions, SIDS are prone to extremely damaging cyclones, storm surges, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, forest fires, landslides, extended droughts and extensive floods. The 1990 UN Disaster Relief Organization review of the economic impact of disasters over the past 20 years reports that of the 25 most disaster-prone countries, 13 are SIDS. Limited capacity to respond and recover from disasters, expensive/lack of insurance coverage, adverse consequences for investment, and rehabilitation costs are major constraints.


Violent winds such as hurricanes or cyclones can cause devastation with little or no warning, through wind and wave damage and often by causing floods. Standing crops in the affected area are likely to be totally destroyed, livestock may be killed or injured, domestic and agricultural buildings and input, crop and food stores damaged or destroyed. Coastal fishing and aquaculture enterprises may suffer seriously from storms which cause damage to boats, landing sites and installations, and loss of lives and livelihoods. Many island communities are particularly vulnerable, with the risk that a major part of island infrastructure and economy may be crippled by a single storm event.

Floods and landslides

Floods and landslides caused by storms, tidal waves or heavy rainfall are common in SIDS. Flash flood can cause devastation in agricultural areas. Landslides exacerbate local devastation when floods obstruct rivers. In most SIDS, people have no choice but living in flood prone areas because of limited land size.


Earthquakes cause disaster through their devastating effect on buildings and infrastructure, directly or by triggering landslides or tidal waves. With no satisfactory means of providing warning of any sort beyond the broad designation of high risk zones, loss of life is often heavy particularly in highly populated areas. Direct effects on crops, livestock and forests are normally of little significance, though there may be indirect losses through landslides, burst dams or tidal waves, the latter also potentially devastating to fishing fleets and infrastructure. Irrigation works and other agricultural infrastructure may be damaged.

Volcanic activity

Volcanic eruption can affect agriculture over a wide area through the deposition of ash and other volcanic material that destroys crops and grazing and damages irrigation systems. The threat of eruption forces people to evacuate the immediate vicinity of a volcano, and can cause substantial loss of human life.


Forest, land and bush fires cause problems to human health, disrupt major social and economic activities, are detrimental to biodiversity, pollute the atmosphere and aggravate greenhouse effects. Forest fires can be caused by natural events (such as lightening or volcanic eruptions) and mainly by human carelessness or design (such as land clearing for agriculture through burning). Coordinated action can reduce fire risks and mitigate impacts.


1. Source: UNOPS, 1998. La gestion de l'environnement en Haiti. Réalités et perspectives. Edition spéciale, UNOPS/PNUD/HAI/92/001.

2. Published in the 1997 State of the World Forests.

3. Source: Yu X. and R. Taplin, 1998. "Renewable Energy and Sustainable Development in the Pacific Islands: an Issue of International Aid". Natural Resources Forum, vol. 22, no. 3, pp. 215-223.

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