Skip to main content Accessibility help

How can island communities deal with environmental hazards and hazard drivers, including climate change?

  • ILAN KELMAN (a1)


This paper provides a critiquing overview of how island communities deal with environmental hazards and hazard drivers, including climate change. The key activity is disaster risk reduction including climate change adaptation, for which many concepts and techniques have emerged from island studies. Although these concepts and techniques are not exclusive to island contexts, this paper focuses on island communities in order to illustrate the importance of human actions in causing and dealing with disasters involving environmental hazards. This point is demonstrated by examining key human and physical geography characteristics representing ‘islandness’: population, area, geomorphology and connectedness. The characteristics are not mutually exclusive, but island stereotypes emerge as small and static populations, small resource areas, highly volatile and changing geomorphology and limited connectedness. In exploring exceptions and diversities amongst islands, stereotypes are sometimes seen and sometimes not seen in reality. Advantages and disadvantages are demonstrated for different island settings dealing with environmental hazards and hazard drivers.


Corresponding author

Correspondence: Dr Ilan Kelman email:


Hide All
Aguirre, B.E. (2005) Cuba's disaster management model: should it be emulated? International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Disasters 23 (3): 5571.
Albert, S., Leon, J.X., Grinham, A.R., Church, J.A., Gibbes, B.R. & Woodroffe, C.D. (2016) Interactions between sea-level rise and wave exposure on reef island dynamics in the Solomon Islands. Environmental Research Letters 11 (5): 054011.
Alexander, D.E. (2013) Volcanic ash in the atmosphere and risks for civil aviation: a study in European crisis management. International Journal of Disaster Risk Science 4 (1): 919.
Angenheister, G. (1921) A study of Pacific earthquakes. New Zealand Journal of Science and Technology 4 (5): 209231.
Baldacchino, G. (ed.) (2007) A World of Islands: An Island Studies Reader. Luqa, Malta and Charlottetown, Canada: Agenda Academic & Institute of Island Studies.
Baldacchino, G. (2008) Studying islands: on whose terms? Some epistemological and methodological challenges to the pursuit of island studies. Island Studies Journal 3 (1): 3756.
Belshaw, C. (1951) Social consequences of the Mount Lamington eruption. Oceania 21 (4): 241253.
Bertram, G. & Watters, R.F. (1985) The MIRAB economy in South Pacific microstates. Pacific Viewpoint 26 (3): 497519.
Betzold, C. (2010) ‘Borrowing’ power to influence international negotiations: AOSIS in the climate change regime, 1990–1997. Politics 30 (3): 131148.
Betzold, C. (2015) Adapting to climate change in small island developing states. Climatic Change 133 (3): 481489.
Betzold, C., Castro, P. & Weiler, F. (2012) AOSIS in the UNFCCC negotiations: from unity to fragmentation? Climate Policy 12 (5): 131148.
Boyle, P.P. & Grada, C.O. (1986) Fertility trends, excess mortality, and the great Irish famine. Demography 23 (4): 543562.
Bronen, R. & Chapin III, F.S. (2013) Adaptive governance and institutional strategies for climate-induced community relocations in Alaska. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 110 (23): 93209325.
Brookfield, H., Bedford, R., Latham, M., Bayliss-Smith, T. & Brookfield, M. (2012) The MAB Project in the Eastern Islands of Fiji, 1974–76 [www document]. URL Accessed 23 April 2016.
Campbell, J. (2009) Islandness: vulnerability and resilience in Oceania. Shima: The International Journal of Research into Island Cultures 3 (1): 8597.
Chester, D.K. (1993) Volcanoes and Society. London, UK: Edward Arnold.
Connell, J. (2016) Last days in the Carteret Islands? Climate change, livelihoods and migration on coral atolls. Asia Pacific Viewpoint 5: 315.
Cooke, B. & Kothari, U. (2001) Participation: The New Tyranny. London, UK: Zed Books.
Cronin, S.J., Gaylord, D.R., Charley, D., Alloway, B.V., Wallez, S. & Esau, J.W. (2004a) Participatory methods of incorporating scientific with traditional knowledge for volcanic hazard management on Ambae Island, Vanuatu. Bulletin of Volcanology 66 (7): 652668.
Cronin, S.J., Petterson, M.G., Taylor, P.W. & Biliki, R. (2004b) Maximizing multi-stakeholder participation in government and community volcanic hazard management programs; a case study from Savo, Solomon Islands. Natural Hazards 33 (1): 105136.
Dancause, K.N., Chan, C.W., Arunotai, N.H. & Lum, J.K. (2009) Origins of the Moken Sea Gypsies inferred from mitochondrial hypervariable region and whole genome sequences. Journal of Human Genetics 54: 8693.
Fry, I. (2016) The Paris Agreement: an insider's perspective – the role of small island developing states. Environmental Policy and Law 46 (2): 105108.
Gaillard, JC (2012) The climate gap. Climate and Development 4 (4): 261264.
Gaillard, JC & Maceda, E.A. (2009) Participatory three-dimensional mapping for disaster risk reduction. Participatory Learning and Action 60: 109118.
Gaillard, JC, Clavé, E., Vibert, O., Azhari, D., Denain, J.-C., Efendi, Y., Grancher, D., Liamzon, C.C., Sari, D.S.R. & Setiawan, R. (2008) Ethnic groups’ response to the 26 December 2004 earthquake and tsunami in Aceh, Indonesia. Natural Hazards 47 (1): 1738.
Gane, M. (1975) Report of a Mission to Assess the Hurricane Factor for Planning Purposes in Fiji. Bradford, UK: Bradford Disaster Research Unit Occasional Paper 9.
García, M.C. (1996) Havana USA: Cuban Exiles and Cuban Americans in South Florida, 1959–1994. Berkeley, CA, USA: University of California Press.
Grattan, J. & Charman, D.J. (1994) Non-climatic factors and the environmental impact of volcanic volatiles: implications of the Laki fissure eruption of AD 1783. The Holocene 4 (1): 101106.
Grydehøj, A. (2015) Island city formation and urban island studies. Area 47 (4): 429435.
Hau'ofa, E. (1993) Our sea of islands. In: A New Oceania: Rediscovering Our Sea of Islands, eds. Naidu, V., Waddell, E. & Hau'ofa, E., pp. 217. Suva, Fiji: School of Social and Economic Development, The University of the South Pacific.
Hoegh-Guldberg, O. (2014) Coral reef sustainability through adaptation: glimmer of hope or persistent mirage? Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 7: 127133.
Hoegh-Guldberg, O., Mumby, P.J., Hooten, A.J., Steneck, R.S., Greenfield, P., Gomez, E., Harvell, C.D., Sale, P.F., Edwards, A.J., Caldeira, K., Knowlton, N., Eakin, C.M., Iglesias-Prieto, R., Muthiga, N., Bradbury, R.H., Dubi, A. & Hatziolos, M.E. (2007) Coral reefs under rapid climate change and ocean acidification. Science 318: 17371742.
Hung, H.-c., Carson, M.T., Bellwood, P., Campos, F.Z., Piper, P.J., Dixon, E., Bolunia, M.J.L.A., Oxenham, M. & Chi, Z. (2011) The first settlement of Remote Oceania: the Philippines to the Marianas. Antiquity 85: 909926.
IPCC (2013–2014). IPCC Fifth Assessment Report. Geneva, Switzerland: IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).
Johnson, E.A., Miyanishi, K. & Weir, J.M.H. (1998) Wildfires in the western Canadian boreal forest: landscape patterns and ecosystem management. Journal of Vegetation Science 9 (4): 603610.
Johnston, I. (2015) Disaster management and climate change adaptation: a remote island perspective. Disaster Prevention and Management 23 (2): 123137.
Journal of Coastal Research (1997) Special Issue No. 24, ‘Island States at Risk: Global Climate Change, Development And Population’. Fall: 1–242.
Kench, P.S., Thompson, D., Ford, M.R., Ogawa, H. & McLean, R.F. (2015) Coral islands defy sea-level rise over the past century: records from a central Pacific atoll. Geology 43 (6): 515518.
Kuleshov, Y., McGree, S., Jones, D., Charles, A., Cottrill, A., Prakash, B., Atalifo, T., Nihmei, S. & Seuseu, F.L.S.K. (2014) Extreme weather and climate events and their impacts on island countries in the Western Pacific: cyclones, floods and droughts. Atmospheric and Climate Sciences 4 (5): 803818.
Le De, L., Gaillard, JC, Friesen, W. & Smith, F.M. (2015) Remittances in the face of disasters: a case study of rural Samoa. Environment, Development and Sustainability 17 (3): 653672.
Leon, J.X., Hardcastle, J., James, R., Albert, S., Kereseka, J. & Woodroffe, C.D. (2015) Supporting local and traditional knowledge with science for adaptation to climate change: lessons learned from participatory three-dimensional modeling in BoeBoe, Solomon Islands. Coastal Management 43: 424438.
Lewis, J. (1979) Volcano in Tonga. Journal of the Administration Overseas XVIII (2): 116121.
Lewis, J. (1981) Some perspectives on natural disaster vulnerability in Tonga. Pacific Viewpoint 22 (2): 145162.
Lewis, J. (1984) A multi-hazard history of Antigua. Disasters 8 (3): 190197.
Lewis, J. (1989) Sea-level rise: some implications for Tuvalu. Ambio 18 (8): 458459.
Lewis, J. (1999) Development in Disaster-prone Places: Studies of Vulnerability. London UK: Intermediate Technology Publications.
Lewis, J. (2009) An island characteristic: derivative vulnerabilities to indigenous and exogenous hazards. Shima: The International Journal of Research into Island Cultures 3 (1): 315.
Maceda, E., Gaillard, JC, Stasiak, E., Le Masson, V. & Le Berre, I. (2009) Experimental use of participatory 3-dimensional models in island community-based disaster risk management. Shima: The International Journal of Research into Island Cultures 3 (1): 4658.
Malé Declaration on Global Warming and Sea Level Rise (1989) Malé, Maldives: Small States Conference on Sea Level Rise.
McLean, R.F., Bayliss-Smith, R.P., Brookfield, M. & Campbell, J.R. (1977) The Hurricane Hazard: Natural Disaster and Small Populations. Island Reports No. 1, the UNESCO/UNFPA Population and Environmental Project in the Eastern Islands of Fiji, Man and the Biosphere Programme. Canberra, Australia: Australian National University.
McNamara, K.E. (2013) Taking stock of community-based climate-change adaptation projects in the Pacific. Asia Pacific Viewpoint 54: 398405.
McNamara, K.E. & Gibson, C. (2009) ‘We do not want to leave our land’: Pacific ambassadors at the United Nations resist the category of ‘climate refugees’. Geoforum 40: 475483.
Nunn, P.D. (2003) Nature–society interactions in the Pacific Islands. Geografiska Annaler 85B (4): 219229.
Nunn, P.D. (2007) Climate, Environment and Society in the Pacific during the Last Millennium. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Elsevier.
Nunn, P.D. (2009) Responding to the challenges of climate change in the Pacific Islands: management and technological imperatives. Climate Research 40: 211231.
Nunn, P.D., Runman, J., Falanruw, M. & Kumar, R. (2016) Culturally grounded responses to coastal change on islands in the Federated States of Micronesia, northwest Pacific Ocean. Regional Environmental Change doi:10.1007/s10113-016-0950-2.
Nurse, L.A. (2011) The implications of global climate change for fisheries management in the Caribbean. Climate and Development 3 (3): 228241.
O'Keefe, P. & Conway, C. (1977) Natural Hazards in the Windward Islands. Bradford Disaster Research Unit Occasional Paper 14. Bradford, UK: University of Bradford.
Orłowska, J. (2015) Living on the sinking islands. Social aspects of climate change on example of Maldives. PhD dissertation. Warsaw, Poland: Institute of Philosophy and Sociology Polish Academy of Sciences.
Pattullo, P. (2000) Fire from the Mountain: The Tragedy of Montserrat and the Betrayal of its People. London, UK: Constable and Robinson.
Pelling, M. & Uitto, J.I. (2001) Small island developing states: natural disaster vulnerability and global change. Global Environmental Change Part B: Environmental Hazards 3 (2): 4962.
Randall, J.E., Kitchen, P., Muhajarine, N., Newbold, B., Williams, A. & Wilson, K. (2014) Immigrants, islandness and perceptions of quality-of-life on Prince Edward Island, Canada. Island Studies Journal 9 (2): 343362.
Rankey, E.C. (2011) Nature and stability of atoll island shorelines: Gilbert Island chain, Kiribati, equatorial Pacific. Sedimentology 58: 18311859.
Royle, S.A. (1989) A human geography of islands. Geography 74 (2): 106116.
Royle, S.A. (2001) A Geography of Islands: Small Island Insularity. London, UK: Routledge.
Sims, H. & Vogelmann, K. (2002) Popular mobilization and disaster management in Cuba. Public Administration and Development 22: 389400.
Statistics Greenland (2016) Statistical Yearbook. Nuuk, Greenland: Statistics Greenland.
Sustainable Development (2006) Special issue on ‘Small Island States and Territories: Sustainable Development Issues and Strategies – Challenges for Changing Islands in a Changing World’. 14 (2): 75147.
Tobin, G.A. (1995) The levee love affair: a stormy relationship. Water Resources Bulletin 31 (3): 359367.
Treadaway, J. (2007) Dancing, Dying, Crawling, Crying: Stories of Continuity and Change in the Polynesian Community of Tikopia. Suva, Fiji: IPS Publications, University of the South Pacific.
UN (1994) Report of the Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States. Document A/CONF.167/9 (October, 1994) from Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States. Bridgetown, Barbados: United Nations.
UN (2005) Draft Mauritius Strategy for the further Implementation of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, Document A/CONF.207/CRP.7 (13 January 2005) from the International Meeting to Review the Implementation of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States. Port Louis, Mauritius: United Nations.
UN (2014) Draft Outcome Document of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States. Apia, 1–4 September 2014. Apia, Samoa: United Nations.
UNFCCC (2015) Conference of the Parties, Twenty-first Session, Paris, 30 November to 11 December 2015, FCCC/CP/2015/L.9/Rev.1. Bonn, Germany: UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change).
UNISDR (2009) Terminology. Geneva, Switzerland: UNISDR (United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction).
UNISDR (2015) Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030. Geneva, Switzerland: UNISDR (United Nations Office for Disaster Reduction).
Wetzel, F.T., Kissling, W.D., Beissmann, H. & Penn, D.J. (2012) Future climate change driven sea-level rise: secondary consequences from human displacement for island biodiversity. Global Change Biology 18: 27072719.
Woodroffe, C.D. (2008) Reef-island topography and the vulnerability of atolls to sea-level rise. Global and Planetary Change 62: 7796.
Yamamoto, L. & Esteban, M. (2014) Atoll Island States and International Law: Climate Change Displacement and Sovereignty. Berlin, Germany: Springer.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

How can island communities deal with environmental hazards and hazard drivers, including climate change?

  • ILAN KELMAN (a1)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.