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Island Vulnerability

"But despite everything, I still love the sea. I am an islander."
Sri Lankan Kodiyatu Sunimal who survived the 26 December 2004 tsunami that killed more than 250,000 people around the Indian Ocean. Reported by the BBC.

"Nothing like living on an island to convince you that land is the correct place to be."
Felipe Reyes in Mary Doria Russell's novel The Sparrow (p. 203).

Island Vulnerability explores the challenges which isolated geographies face when dealing with risk and disasters by examining the processes which create, maintain, and could be used to reduce their vulnerability.

Galunggung, Indonesia on 3 December 1982.

Galunggung, Indonesia on 3 December 1982.
(Public domain photo courtesy of the National Geophysical Data Center's photo library, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Commerce, U.S.A Government, photographer R. Hadian, USGS.)

Understanding Island Vulnerability

The "what" questions are:

The "why" questions are:

See also alternatives to vulnerability.

"Where?" is answered by Island Vulnerability's islands.

"Who?" is answered by the people mentioned throughout the Island Vulnerability website who have contributed and who continue to contribute to this topic, especially through the cited publications. For more information on this website, please contact Island Vulnerability.

"How?" is illustrated by Island Vulnerability's projects & ideas.

View from Chalky Mount, Barbados.

View from Chalky Mount, Barbados.
(Copyright Ilan Kelman 1999.)

This Website's Information

The information provided on the Island Vulnerability webpages is not intended to be comprehensive. Instead, it is indicative of the vulnerabilities and resiliences which islands experience, how to deal with the challenges, and how to create and pursue opportunities. The aim, through selected examples from Island Vulnerability's experience, is to highlight and to explain the importance of islands peoples, island communities, and island geographies, both their intrinsic value and the contributions they could make elsewhere.

By illustrating the work which has been done and the groups and people involved in island vulnerability, this webpage will provide another resource for those with island interests and for those who have yet to develop island interests. Suggestions, contributions, and corrections are encouraged by contacting Island Vulnerability.

Ailsa Craig, Scotland.

Ailsa Craig, Scotland.
(Copyright Ilan Kelman 1994.)

What are islands, isolated geographies, and small states?
If a location or people feel part of the global island community or wish to become involved in the global island community for a specific issue, then they should not be excluded. Any physical or human geographical entity may decide to be part of the global island community.

What is vulnerability?
Vulnerability indicates the potential for damage or harm to occur, yet vulnerability is not only about the present state, but also about what we have done to ourselves and to others over the long-term, why and how we have done that in order to reach the present state, and how we may change the present state to improve in the future.
James Lewis, see also The Creation of Cultures of Risk: Political and commercial decisions as causes of vulnerability for others (79 kb in PDF).

What significance does island vulnerability have?
Island vulnerability investigates the processes which lead to a high proportional impact in disasters, and, more importantly, looks at ways in which vulnerability could be reduced by lessening proportional impact in such a small environment.

A House on Upolu, Samoa Which Was Damaged by Cyclone Heta in January 2004.

A House on Upolu, Samoa Which Was Damaged by Cyclone Heta in January 2004.
(Copyright Ilan Kelman 2004.)

Why islands?
The focus on islands arises because the physical and psychological isolation of islands tends to prioritise them disproportionately low in comparison to their importance. As well, the transferability of lessons from islands to other locations, particularly given the innovative solutions which islands may develop, is a vital outcome from island studies.

Why vulnerability?
"Vulnerability has to be addressed therefore, not only by post-disaster concern and response, but as a part of the day-to-day management of change--whether or not that change is called development." (Lewis, 1999).

Why island vulnerability?
"Island countries and countries of islands have, in their relative smallness, an extraordinary vulnerability [and] Islands could inform the continents, were they given the chance" (Lewis, 1999).

Lough Outer, Kilkeely Forest, County Cavan, Ireland.

Lough Outer, Kilkeely Forest, County Cavan, Ireland.
(Copyright Ilan Kelman 1997.)

Alternatives to Vulnerability

Some people dislike the term "vulnerability", which like "resilience", does not translate well into many other languages or cultures. Sometimes definitions, connotations, and understandings of "vulnerability" vary but at other times the term is misunderstood or misinterpreted. In particular, vulnerability is often seen as just the current state, in a sense referring to what society is at the moment regarding characteristics such as its fragilities, weaknesses, and susceptibilities.

In contrast, this website considers vulnerability not only as the current state but also as the process by which that current state was reached and the direction in which the current state is heading. The "vulnerability process" refers to the actions, behaviours, values, ideas, and systems which have led to characteristics such as fragilities, weaknesses, and susceptibilities and which can perpetuate or absolve these issues. To absolve these issues, aspects including resistance, resilience, capacity, capability, strength, power, empowerment, and sustainability are necessarily addressed by vulnerability--ensuring that they, too, become processes, such as the "resilience process".

Nonetheless, some people still contend that the word "vulnerability" is too technocratic, negative, or otherwise inappropriate, especially if it would be frequently misunderstood (as occurs). Other possible phrases or ideas which refer to, encompass, or complement Island Vulnerability as defined by this website are Island Affairs, Island Capability, Island Capacity, Island Empowerment, Island Power, Island Resilience, Island Resiliency, Island Risk, Island Strength, and Island Sustainability.

Language is powerful and terminology is important. "Vulnerability" through the vulnerability process has deliberately been chosen for this website for the reasons described on this page. This choice does not imply that "vulnerability" is always the superior term irrespective of the circumstances, that other people are wrong or misguided, or that all inadequacies have been addressed. Instead, it suggests that for the perspective and interests displayed by this website, "vulnerability" is the best term, particularly with the definition provided. Rather than becoming mired in the inadequacies of language--particularly English--or rejecting anyone's work due to choice of vocabulary, continued thinking, discussion, debate, and exchange on terminology and meanings would help to ensure that our "doing" continually contributes constructively.

Fiji Sunset.

Fiji Sunset.
(Copyright Ilan Kelman 2004.)

Contact Island Vulnerability.

The material on the Island Vulnerability website is provided as only an information source. Neither definitive advice nor recommendations are implied. Each person or organisation accessing the website is responsible for making their own assessment of the topics discussed and are strongly advised to verify all information. No liability will be accepted for loss or damage incurred as a result of using the material on this website. The appearance of external links on this website does not constitute endorsement of the organisations, information, products, or services contained on that external website.