SIDS experts discuss sustainable urban development in light of the upcoming Habitat III Conference
New York – 14 June 2016. An Expert Group Meeting on Sustainable Urban Development in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) took place at UN Headquarters in New York. The meeting, organized by the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) from 13 – 14 June, brought together SIDS experts from the three SIDS regions, development partners and UN system entities to discuss and formulate SIDS specific recommendations on sustainable urban development in light of the upcoming Habitat III Conference in Quito, Ecuador (17-20, 2016).

Photo credit: UN-OHRLLS
The EGM provided an opportunity for SIDS experts to: identify the challenges and opportunities that SIDS face in sustainable urban development; discuss how a more holistic approach can be adopted in SIDS efforts to address sustainable urban development and share best practices and lessons learned from the three SIDS regions. The results of the EGM are expected to contribute to the ongoing intergovernmental process towards an outcome for Habitat III.

In his opening remarks, Under-Secretary-General and High Representative Mr. Gyan Chandra Acharya stressed that “SIDS face particular and unique urban challenges that for many are rooted in their geographic make-up and smallness, where land space is put at a premium. In many instances, the definition of ‘urban’ itself, for many SIDS, may need to be viewed through a SIDS lens. This will allow both SIDS and their partners to begin to understand these unique challenges that SIDS face on urbanization.”

In highlighting the diversity of urban environments in SIDS from small towns to city-states, H.E. Ahmed Sareer, Permanent Representative of Maldives to the United Nations and Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) stressed that “. . . SIDS have significantly varied governance arrangements, from community or sub-national actors, to national level management of settlements across hundreds or even thousands of islands. And this is why we believe and advocate that “one size fit all” solutions will not be effective in the new Urban Agenda. The unique challenges and circumstances of SIDS in terms of vulnerabilities, governance arrangements and sizes must be taken into account.”

The EGM highlighted the particular and unique urban challenges being faced by SIDS including in the areas of: financing, access to technology, data, regional cooperation, integrated climate change management, capacity building, land tenure, waste management, opportunities for women and youth, the informal sector, utilization of local knowledge, role of the private sector and disaster risk reduction.

For many SIDS where available land is already limited, the competing demands on land use is a challenge that can be exacerbated by urbanization. Innovative and targeted solutions are therefore required to cater to their interests. Furthermore, for many SIDS where cultural and traditional norms are still practiced, including those that are linked to land use, unplanned urbanisation can also lead to social instability within society and between communities in urban settlements.

The EGM also stressed that the onset of climate change impacts will further exacerbate existing pressures on many SIDS populations which - for many - live predominantly within 1.5kms from the coast while a number of SIDS have 100 percent of their population living no higher than 5 meters above the sea level. Critical infrastructure in many SIDS are also oriented along coasts.

Some 59 percent of the total population of SIDS already live in urban environments. Due to their geographic size, the smallest among them are also the most urbanized. Other SIDS, including those whose make-ups are geographically archipelagic, tend to have lower populations in urban areas. While the urbanisation rate in SIDS is about 1.4 percent compared to the global rate of 1.7 percent, the fastest urbanisation is taking place in the Pacific where it is at 4.3 percent, increasing to 16 percent if peri-urban areas are included.

These challenges call for a holistic approach to overcome them, given their interlinkages. Policy frameworks at all levels to address urbanization in SIDS, from the global to the local and community levels, will need to adopt an integrated approach that cuts across sustainable development, disaster risk reduction, Agenda 2030, as well as the climate challenge. Such an approach is imperative for SIDS who often face resource constraints, including human capacity constraints, where holistic approaches not only make good sense but they will also contribute to lessen burdens placed on SIDS capacities, in terms of implementation and follow-up.

While recognition of the importance of managing urbanisation for improved development has increased in the last decade, for many SIDS it is still failing to be a significant political commitment. Understanding urbanisation itself by SIDS policy makers as well as their development partners will need to be further enhanced.

In closing the meeting, UN-OHRLLS Chief, Mr. Sandagdorj Erdenebileg, thanked the experts for sharing their on-the-ground experiences which will also support and add value to SIDS Member States currently engaged in negotiations on the outcome of Habitat III.

Copyright 2016 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs