Building Back Better and Inclusive Recovery for Small Islands States

Session Summary

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) suffer disproportionately from the adverse impacts of natural hazards exacerbated by climate change. They include more than two-thirds of the countries with the highest relative average annual disaster losses caused by natural disasters – between 1 to 9% of their GDP – and the costs are growing. Climate change is expected to greatly increase the SIDS’ exposure to natural hazards such as hurricanes, storm surges, flooding and extreme winds. The recurrence and severity of natural disasters compound existing challenges and place added burdens on the SIDS’ efforts to achieve the SDGs by diverting funds from social programs and infrastructure to disaster response.

There are several approaches to achieve inclusive recovery, and one of them is to apply the principles of Building Back Better (BBB), operationalized through three dimensions: building back faster, stronger and more inclusively. BBB can lay the foundation for building inclusive and resilient societies and benefit the SIDS specifically due to their high vulnerability and small scale. Seven of the top ten countries with the highest gains from BBB belong to the SIDS. As was noted earlier, the World Bank report Build Back Better showed that a faster, stronger and more inclusive recovery would lead to an average reduction in disaster-related well-being losses of 59 percent in the SIDS and that such resilient and effective recovery can only take place through targeted actions before the disaster hits. Another thematic session attempted to understand what BBB meant in practice in the SIDS, and the challenges to its implementation.

The SIDS are the most vulnerable to natural disasters due to their higher risk relative to their populations and economies. They are also at the front line of climate change, which greatly increases their exposure and vulnerability to natural disasters. The islands in the Caribbean, Africa, and the Pacific and Indian Oceans are heterogeneous, but they also share specific and unique commonalities such as small size, geographic isolation, narrow expertise-based industries and high infrastructure costs.

The Caribbean experience highlighted the key challenges in BBB, among which the need to highlight the multi-hazard context in which the SIDS operate instead of focusing on the hydro-meteorological hazards alone. It is important to identify the end-goal of BBB, to recognize that the scale of damage to built environment is not restricted to housing alone, but also impacts other sectors such as tourism, public infrastructure, human resources, etc. and to highlight that the three dimensions of BBB may require some measure of trade-offs. Prior policy articulation and planning, using data to make informed decisions to address the needs of vulnerable sections of the population, inclusiveness, and strengthening horizontal cooperative arrangements of capacity with an emphasis on non-structural recovery were among the lessons learned to support faster and stronger recovery.

The view from Tonga showed how social resilience and inclusiveness on the ground can be promoted by integrating BBB into national policy that considered immediate response, inclusiveness based on reliable data, and financing for recovery. Community self-recovery can be enhanced by raising awareness at the community level, enforcing regulation at the policy level, and a mutual understanding between the two.

A perspective from Vanuatu emphasized how women’s voices were still not heard. If they were made aware of their rights, policy makers could engage them to use their specialized knowledge to take collective decisions on issues affecting them, thereby Building Back Better.

In Jamaica, adaptive social protection has been built around targeting and data, with financial resources being channeled to provide access to cash so the most vulnerable can receive the response they need. The importance of thinking about BBB before disaster strikes is to enhance preparedness across sectors, to focus on local leadership, and to drive first response. Strategic investment coupled with the right information, monitoring programs to evaluate the effectiveness of delivery of social protection, local leadership and volunteerism are crucial in building community-based organizations with a wide representation, and offer the best chance of protection.

The session concluded that the three principles on which Building Back Better is operationalized viz. faster, stronger and more inclusively, need to be defined more specifically in the context of the SIDS. The role of data in identifying vulnerable communities, prioritizing actions to help them better prepare and recover from disasters, and identifying the gaps where benefits are not being delivered was highlighted. BBB sounds good in theory, but there are a lot of challenges on the ground in terms of how it is defined and implemented. There is a need for data to drive policy, which must work hand-in-hand with local communities for effective response and to Build Back Better. Planning ahead of disasters, social vulnerability assessments, adaptive social protection systems, community resilience and women’s leadership can help BBB to contribute to sustainable and resilient societies in the SIDS.