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. After an
Overview, this page provides information on the vulnerabilities of the United Kingdom's fourteen Overseas Territories:
This page provides information specifically related to vulnerability (including risk, disasters, and sustainability), rather than general information such as travel details, country profiles, government websites, or history. The information provided is not intended to be comprehensive, but is indicative of the vulnerabilities which islands experience and how sustainable solutions might be developed and implemented. The publications listed reflect those in the library of Island Vulnerability.
Commentary by Bob Conrich from Anguilla on 24 December 2004:
My island used to be called a "Colony". Sometimes it was called a "Crown Colony", but that's the same thing. Then, maybe 10 or 12 years ago, somebody in London decided that colonialism wasn't widely admired, so they changed the name to "Dependent Territory". Then, about three years ago, some new person in London (people in London are always being replaced with new people--if that's annoying to me, I can only imagine how their spouses must feel about it) decided that it was demeaning to be called a "Dependent", so now they call us an "Overseas Territory". I don't know what they'll call us next year.
British Antarctic Territory (BAT)
Deception Island, a polygenetic shield volcano with a large flooded caldera. Its last eruption was on 13 August 1970; explosive (maar-forming) but small-volume.
British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) (Chagos Archipelago)
Commentary by Ilan Kelman on 2 January 2003:
BIOT, comprising islands of the Chagos Archipelago, represents one of the unfortunate episodes in British colonial history. Under the Treaty of Paris in 1814, France ceded the islands of the Chagos Archipelago, Mauritius, and Seychelles to Britain. The Chagos Archipelago, including Diego Garcia, was administered by Mauritius until 1965 when the Mauritius Council of Ministers agreed that the Archipelago would become part of the newly-created BIOT. Mauritius was paid £3 million in exchange for the islands and given the assurance that the islands would be returned when they were no longer needed by the UK government for defence. Mauritius gained independence in 1968 and several BIOT islands were transferred to Seychelles upon that country's independence in 1976, leaving only the Chagos Archipelago as BIOT.
Later, it emerged that during negotiations in 1965 to create BIOT, the UK had struck a secret deal with the USA. The island of Diego Garcia was leased to the USA for a military base while the UK received an $11 million discount on Polaris nuclear missiles. Aldabra had been considered instead of Diego Garcia, but the effects of military activity on rare tortoises were expected to raise the ire of vocal environmentalists. Instead, the Chagos Archipelago was chosen and the British government formulated plans to get rid of the population, the Chagossians. The Chagossians were called "Tarzans or Man Fridays" in one internal memo from diplomat Dennis Greenhill and lies were told to parliament and the United Nations about the Chagossians' history of inhabiting the islands. During the late 1960s, Chagossians who temporarily left the islands were denied the right to return. In the early 1970s, remaining residents were forcibly removed.
Most Chagossians ended up in slums in Mauritius where they were marginalised, experienced racism, received little assistance, and succumbed to alcohol and suicide. Meanwhile, the Americans and British built up Diego Garcia as a military base which included bringing in foreign workers. People from Mauritius and the Philippines were allowed to work on Diego Garcia, but not the Chagossians. As well, since the 1970s, Mauritius has argued that the Chagos Archipelago was taken from them illegally.
Chagossians took the UK government to court in London to obtain a ruling that their eviction was illegal and that they have a right to return. In November 2000, the High Court ruled that the UK government had acted illegally. The UK government chose not to appeal the ruling. Chagossians were still not able to visit their homes because they decline to visit their islands unless Diego Garcia is included. The American military is refusing such a visit. In October 2002, the Chagossians were back in court in London to win the right to visit Diego Garcia. In January 2003, the situation had not been resolved.
The sad ironies of this case illustrate the vulnerabilities of islands to colonial whims and international geopolitics. The strategic importance of the Chagos Archipelago was illustrated by its use in military action against Afghanistan and Iraq. These battles, claimed to be for issues such as freedom and justice, use an island from which the population was illegally evicted, treated shamefully, and refused the right to return. The USA and the UK, the two countries at the forefront of recent attacks on heinous regimes, use a location in which they continue to commit a disgraceful injustice. A further irony is seen with the Falklands. The UK was willing to go to war at any cost for the Falklanders, yet balks at paying adequate compensation to the Chagossians, in terms of both money and support to visit and resettle the Chagos Archipelago.
Given the secrecy surrounding Diego Garcia, it is difficult to know how much damage has been done to the island and whether or not permanent, sustainable re-inhabitation would be feasible. The lack of civilian infrastructure on the Chagos Archipelago is a challenge to be overcome, yet a report for the UK government in 2000 indicated the strong potential for successful settlement of the islands. It is paramount to return the Chagossians to their home while they still have some memories of their old home. Thus, they would be able to adapt and to create communities more easily. The current overriding vulnerability is to time which has the power to lose forever their knowledge for, and interest in, living on their rightful home of the Chagos Archipelago.
In linking from http://www.zianet.com/tedmorris/dg/links2.html#politics to this website, Ted Morris (no date given) writes:
A commentary by Ilan Kelman, which basically plagerizes other pinko diatribes against the Brits and US. The "current overriding vulnerability" is to time which has the power to lose forever their knowledge for, and interest in, living on their rightful home of the Chagos Archipelago. Hmmmmm... what about the environmental consequences? Or the Brookings Institute "nukes"? Very odd twist to the concept of "vulnerabilities."
Ilan Kelman responds on 16 June 2005:
My original commentary explicitly questions whether or not re-inhabitation would be feasible. Rather than descending into insults and random political labels, I would suggest that the following issues do need to be addressed:
Such issues are core to understanding, debating, and resolving island vulnerability. Let us do so openly, honestly, and through consulting with those people most affected.
As of 21 August 2008, in linking to this section of Island Vulnerability, http://www.zianet.com/tedmorris/dg/links2.html#politics written by Ted Morris now reads:
This site "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." In the evaluation of the BIOT, Ilan Kelman, basically repeats other diatribes against the Brits and US, and states that the "current overriding vulnerability" of the islands is "time" because it has the power to cause the exiled Chagossians to lose forever their knowledge for, and interest in, living on their rightful home of the Chagos Archipelago. He and I have communicated, and his questions to me and my response are on his website.
Ted Morris responds on 21 August 2008:
I have just now noticed the questions you put to me in 2005. Here are my answers.
Not all Chagossians have been or are excluded from working on Diego Garcia. I met two Chagossians, born on Diego Garcia, and employed by the Base Operations and Support contractor in 1982 and in 1987, and I know of another who was there in the late 1990s, and he and I continue in correspondence to this day. The Mauritian labour brokers (required to be in the loop by the Mauritian government) in Port Louis may have discriminated against the Chagossians in employment selection.
There is no useable infrastructure on any island but Diego Garcia. At the time of the Chagossians' expulsion, there was no electricity in the islands, and as late as 1968 (see the Appendix to the 2003 High Court of Justice case number HQ02X01287), only one motor vehicle, which did not have any fuel (personal communication with Kirby Crawford, Team Leader for the US NOAA Satellite Tracking Team on Diego Garcia, 1968). For a detailed plan to resettle the islands, and its implications on the environment and the Chagossians themselves, see the Chagos People's Homeland Campaign's "Returning Home; A Proposal for the Resettlement of the Chagos Islands" (1.5 Mb in PDF) and an independent evaluation of that report (1.3 Mb in PDF).
The references given in Question #2 provide information. The basic mitigation of those concerns would be through huge amounts of money; for example, agriculture and aquaculture. The base at Diego Garcia has zero agricultural footprint, and conducts only recreational (and heavily regulated) fishing. The 3,000 workers on the base receive non-perishable food resupply by ship every eight weeks, and approximately 40,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, etc., by air from Singapore per week (about 2 pounds per person per day). The transportation costs alone are enormous, but the US is restricted by the British from "living off the land" and is willing to pay huge sums to keep its sailors and airmen fed and able to perform their missions.
Who will bear this cost for the 2,500 Chagossians the CRG wants to resettle in the outer islands? Considering Île du Coin, I do not think that an adequate diet can be provided for all settlers from locally produced food on a coral-sand cay of that size. As happened historically and with the military base today, supplemental rations will need to be continually imported.
The list of concerns to be "ameliorated" is virtually endless. All it takes, though, is money. To give an example of the costs, to maintain the basic infrastructure of the base at Diego Garcia, the US government pays in excess of US$50 million per year. Neither the US or UK is willing to pay a similar price for the Chagossians, at least willingly, nor do NGOs have the funds to do so indefinitely. Therefore, without population controls, the returning Chagossians and their descendants will have one option: exploit the environment to the fullest extent which will have severe consequences and which is unlikely to be sustainable.
(i) Culture need not be entirely lost when one leaves "home" (for whatever reason), unless that culture is incompatible with human rights, when it should definitely be condemned in the new environment and abandoned. For example, the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly ruled that Sharia law is incompatible with Human Rights and therefore has no place in Europe. Chagossians celebrating their heritage by retaining their language and the Sega party don't fall into that realm, and can continue their culture anywhere in the free world.
(ii) Biodiversity is critical to the survival of the planetary environment, and the marine environment of the Chagos is critical to the conservation of the biodiversity of the Indian Ocean. Loss of species and ecosystems in the modern world is almost always a function of habitat modification by humans. It can be (and is in most developed nations) mitigated by restrictions on human activity. Will the Chagossians be herded into a tiny fraction of the land area of the tiny islands of the Chagos and extraordinary measures taken to minimize the effluents of that population? What has prepared them culturally for those kinds of restrictions? It is one thing to order sailors to leave sea turtle nests unmolested under penalty of law, but quite another to deny a hungry Chagossian the right to eat. Or do the Chagossians want to fully develop and exploit the islands to serve what could be a constantly growing population? Will they accept strict population controls?
(iii) For livelihoods, see the evaluation in (ii). If they are to be given the freedom to exploit the Chagos in the pursuit of "livelihoods", the environment of the Chagos will be radically altered, and the probability of the loss of biodiversity will increase.
Your questions certainly require a degree of subjective evaluation. For the purposes of my answer, I will take the position that western civilization is the guarantor of individual freedom, human rights and dignity, democracy, intellectual progress, and environmentalism. If you disagree, nothing that follows will satisfy.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, very important global developments were taking place in terms of the "Cold War" confrontation between the East and the West, with the US as the leader in protecting western interests. The end results of this geopolitical struggle was by no means clear. When the decision was made to make Diego Garcia a naval station, the US had no permanent naval bases between Greece and the Philippines and I believe that it was needed to successfully counter Soviet naval presence by deterring conflict through preventing free reign by the Soviets around the Indian Ocean.
Meanwhile, the UN's agreed upon granting of independence to European colonies was in full swing. The citizenship of these new countries was never really in question. In the BIOT, Chagossians were claimed by Mauritius or the Seychelles. When it became independent in 1968, Mauritius aligned with India and immediately began making territorial claims on the BIOT (despite the 3m GBP paid in 1965), and the presence of a potentially hostile population in the Chagos was unacceptable in geopolitical terms.
While it may seem obvious today that granting Chagossians BIOT (and eventually full British) citizenship, it was not so clear in 1968, nor has anything done since by the Government of Mauritius indicate they would have allowed a major communications and logistics base on Diego Garcia, nor permitted the freedom of movement to US and allied forces that allowed western interests to be safeguarded in the Indian Ocean region.
I personally believe the Chagossians (but not the Mauritian or Seychellois workers) should have been allowed to stay in the BIOT, and been granted British citizenship. However, the reality is that prior to 2001, when the UK granted full citizenship to the people of its overseas territories, the Chagossians were citizens of Mauritius or the Seychelles. Attempts were made by the UK to give compensation totally over US$73,000 (in 2006 dollars) to each family. However, those attempts were thwarted by the Government of Mauritius, and their discrimination against the Chagossians ever since is a major part of the story.
It is not too late for the Chagossians to gain appropriate redress, but returning elderly men and women, and young men and women who are used to modern conveniences to be wards of the state on tiny islands in the middle of nowhere is probably not in their best interests, in my view.
The Union Jack. The flag with the wavy blue lines is the Commissioner’s personal banner, and not a territorial emblem. The orange, black, and blue emblem is Oliver Bancoult's personal design.
It depends on who you ask. There are many factions within the Chagossian community.
Commentary by Sean Carey from Le Maruicien on 11 August 2009:
AT SOUTHAMPTON UNIVERSITY, LAST WEEK
Protest against exclusion of Chagossian and Mauritian government representatives
Leading UK scientists withdraw from Indian Ocean conservation workshop
From 5th to 6th August, the National Oceanography Centre at Southampton University held a workshop to discuss the establishment of a Marine Protection Area (MPA) around the Chagos Islands, part of the British Indian Ocean Territory, as proposed by the Chagos Conservation Trust and other organisations.
However, no representatives from the exiled Chagossian community or the Mauritian government, which claims that the area was illegally excised from its territory before it gained independence from Britain in 1968, were invited to this gathering of marine scientists although the Foreign & Commonwealth Office fielded two desk officers and a legal adviser.
In the run up to the workshop, some participants pointed out to the organisers that the human dimension should not be excluded from discussions since the Chagossian people, sooner or later, may well recover their right to return to their homeland and some may wish to settle in the Archipelago. It was felt that a meeting which took no account of this was in danger of invalidating the work and conclusions of the workshop.
Since the organisers were unwilling to alter the arrangements for the event, two participants, Dr Lynda Rodwell, an Ecological Economist of Plymouth University, and Dr Mark Spalding, Senior Marine Scientist of The Nature Conservancy and Cambridge University decided to withdraw from participation.
They have issued a public letter on their reasons for their withdrawal.
"On 5-6 August a meeting was hosted by the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS) in collaboration with the Universities of Warwick and Plymouth, under the auspices of the NERC Strategic Ocean Funding Initiative (SOFI) with the aim of discussing the development of a large marine protected area in the Chagos Archipelago. This meeting follows on from earlier discussions and the issue of a brochure by the Chagos Conservation Trust proposing an MPA.
These earlier developments had caused considerable consternation among the Chagossian community as well as the Mauritian Government because they were not brought into discussions on a matter which clearly has very strong links to their own interests. Aware of these concerns we, Dr Mark Spalding and Dr Lynda Rodwell, requested that the organisers ensure that Chagossian interests were fairly represented at the meeting. These requests went unanswered and we so both pulled out of the meeting as a matter of principle.
While we understand that there may have been logistical reasons for failing to answer our requests, we feel that ignoring Chagossian interests in such discussions is not only hurtful, but may indeed be counter-productive. We understand that the meeting was intended to focus on science issues, but it is simply not possible to separate conservation science from the wider political and human context. The world of conservation is littered with failed or failing conservation efforts because they have ignored basic human and social elements. While the Chagossians remain barred from returning to settle in the Archipelago at present, their right to return has in fact been restored on three occasions by earlier court judgements. Their case is now before the European Court of Human Rights.
It is important that the Chagossians too understand, and feel involved with, the critical conservation and management issues in their homeland and that they are not excluded from such discussions. Similarly the UK continues to state its intention to transfer sovereignty of the Chagos Islands to Mauritius once they are no longer required for military purposes. It would be both diplomatic and sensible for Mauritius to have some input into discussions over a major and likely long-term conservation management decision in a territory which may some day come under their jurisdiction.
We are NOT opposed to conservation in the Chagos. On the contrary we are sure that well-planned sustainable management will be critical to the long-term future of Chagos, settled or uninhabited. A large marine protected area could very likely offer the best means of governance, but such a designation would not preclude human settlement, as shown by the considerable levels of protection already applied around the densely settled base on Diego Garcia. Involvement of Chagossians in these discussions will clearly enhance the likelihood of continued good governance should resettlement occur in the future, and it will also serve a critical purpose in raising awareness of all participants of the challenges and risks of resettlement, particularly in the face of future climate change.
We ARE concerned that the continued exclusion of Chagossians from such discussions will lead to a polarisation of views which is both unnecessary and potentially damaging to the long term future of the Archipelago. We hope that future further discussions will include Chagossian representation and indeed that it might be possible in the near term to convene another meeting precisely to discuss all of the practical and human elements relevant to the establishment of a large marine protected area in Chagos, to include existing and potential future uses - military, fisheries, recreation, and resettlement.
Dr Mark Spalding, The Nature Conservancy ; Conservation Science Group University of Cambridge ; and Executive Committee Member of the Chagos Conservation Trust.
Dr Lynda Rodwell, Lecturer in Ecological Economics, University of Plymouth and one of original convenors of the workshop "
David Snoxell, the former British High Commissioner to Mauritius, 2000-2004, and co-ordinator of the UK Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) commented : " This is the first time that a strong statement of support for the Chagos Islanders has come from highly regarded marine conservation experts. That they were prepared to boycott an important meeting of the scientific community because Chagossian and Mauritian interests were ignored is highly creditable. "
He added: "I am sure that this stand will have a lasting impact on the future consideration of the proposed Marine Protection Area which both the Chagossians and Mauritius support. But all concerned parties must be involved in the planning of this scheme, otherwise it will fail. I am sure that the Chagos Islands APPG would agree. "
(Dr Sean Carey is Research Fellow at the Centre for Research on Nationalism, Ethnicity and Multiculturalism (CRONEM) at Roehampton University)
British Virgin Islands (BVI)
British Virgin Islands: An Example in Preparedness
Small island developing states are extremely vulnerable to disasters. However, not all island governments respond with the same level of investment, leaving populations vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters. This is not the case in the British Virgin Islands. Twenty years ago, the government of the British Virgin Islands assigned a budget of US$3000 to disaster preparedness. Today, the money allocated for that purpose has increased to $500,800. More than $5.5 million have been set aside in a national disaster relief fund. In addition, a small cadre of trained professionals has been assigned the task of addressing disaster management issues.
Accomplishments in the field of disasters include public awareness, coordination and disaster planning, telecommunications for emergencies, an emergency shelter network and community preparedness, reduced hurricane damage, integrated disaster management and development planning, disaster legislation, and building of local capacity.
BVI's disaster management program has come to be recognized as a model for small island states in the Caribbean region and around the world. Their hope is to strengthen the culture of disaster awareness and improve capacity to address all aspects of the disaster cycle, benefiting not only the BVI, but improving the pool of talent for the region as a whole.Some Resources:
The volcanic activity on Montserrat starting in 1995 has led to a long list of published material on volcanic hazards and risks on the island. Disaster risk reduction and sustainability issues have also been highlighted. Due to the large volume of material, the list presented here cannot be comprehensive. Instead, a selection of sources is provided, reflecting those in the library of Island Vulnerability.Some Resources:
The Start of the Exclusion Zone on Montserrat.
Commentary by Ilan Kelman on 2 January 2003:
On the topic of natural hazards, St. Helena is said to have few: the occasional rockfall, but that is about it. Pedgley's paper notes that thirteen thunderstorms were recorded between 1827 and 1985 and that two episodes of hail were recorded between 1827 and 1998. Interesting questions may thus be raised about the population's vulnerability to such "extreme" events.
Events which are experienced regularly are generally dealt with adequately by a population. For example, in southern England a few centimetres of snow overnight can cause main roads to be closed while Swedes and Canadians routinely deal with tens of centimetres in one snowfall. For a St. Helenian growing up experiencing lightning perhaps once a decade and hail perhaps once a lifetime, what would the experience of a "normal" U.K. windstorm or a "normal" Ontario thunderstorm be like? Terrifying, because it is an obvious but unknown threat, or curious with no thought of danger, because it is an odd but fascinating phenomenon?
Furthermore, with global environmental change, is it possible that the meteorology around St. Helena will change drastically bringing more frequent and more severe natural hazards to the island? If so, how would the society cope? In the U.K., storms and floods may get worse due to global environmental change, but the British will be dealing with worse forms of known events. For St. Helena, the situation could bring previously unknown events. How would Birmingham react if the impossible situation manifested of an explosive volcano suddenly rising on the city's outskirts? How would St. Helena react if the 1-in-10,000 storm affected the island, as it could so any day?
At the more usual end, Eickhoff and Beighton's paper describes a vulnerability which many islands face. With a small population living in an isolated location for a long period of time compared to the human lifetime, the possibility emerges for some form of genetic bottleneck. Fortunately, St. Helena's population is large enough and the island is not isolated enough for such an issue to threaten the viability of the society.
Finally, the decision to investigate the building of an airport on St. Helena will introduce a new set of vulnerabilities. The immediate issue is that of the island's capability to deal with a mass medical emergency in the event of an aircraft crash. For the longer term, do aspects of island life exist which may be threatened by the change in the principal mode of transportation from sea to air? If so, is the loss of any of these aspects desirable or must they be sadly accepted as part of the continuing changes which all societies experience, particularly isolated societies which become less isolated?
South Georgia and the South Sandwich IslandsSome Resources:
Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia in Cyprus
A description of these territories and their status is given by the British High Commission in Nicosia, from which the following text is taken:
"The Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) of Akrotiri and Dhekelia are those parts of the island which stayed under British jurisdiction and remained British sovereign territory when the 1960 Treaty of Establishment created the independent Republic of Cyprus.
Comprising 98 square miles - 475 in the Western Sovereign Base Area including Episkopi Garrison and RAF Akrotiri and 50.5 in the Eastern Sovereign Base Area, including Dhekelia Garrison - the Bases cover 3 percent of the land area of the island of Cyprus.
Because the SBAs are run as military bases, the Administration reports to the Ministry of Defence in London rather than the Foreign and Commonwealth Office though there are close informal links with the latter on policy matters.
The SBAs are a British dependant territory. Civil government is the responsibility of the Administrator who, as Commander British Forces Cyprus, is a senior military officer...The administration of the Bases is driven by three main policy objectives: effective use of the SBAs as military bases, full co-operation with the Republic of Cyprus, and protection of the interests of those resident or working in the SBAs.
The Bases enable the UK to maintain a permanent military presence at a strategic point in the Eastern Mediterranean. RAF Akrotiri is an important staging post for military aircraft and the communication facilities are an important element of the UK's world-wide links. Reliable weather and demanding terrain make for good training facilities, and the Bases can be used for a variety of operations, both military and humanitarian.
There is no operational link between British Forces Cyprus and the British contingent of the United Nations Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP)."
Tristan da Cunha
Commentary by Ilan Kelman on 2 January 2003:
One vulnerability theme to emerge from the references is the indication of detrimental effects at the interface between human activity and the natural environment. Birds appear to be particularly affected by fishing activities as well as by human debris, but aesthetic and wider ecological impacts are obvious from impacts on beaches. Even the "exceptional rainfall" on Gough Island has human-induced consequences because geomorphological and hydrological changes due to the rainfall permitted the spread of alien species.
The human impacts from both local and non-local sources on small, isolated islands is apparent. The direct consequences affect only the local people of Tristan da Cunha but indirect effects are global because the loss of a species or the collapse of a local fishery affects ecologies far beyond the local area where these phenomena may occur. The loss of nature's intrinsic value, of course, affects everyone. The local situation in Tristan da Cunha is particularly poignant globally because most damage is caused by non-local ships servicing non-local markets. Hence, local vulnerability and global vulnerability are enhanced by globally-related activities.
A further contrast between global and local issues appears. The people of Tristan da Cunha can alter their own behaviour, such as ensuring that their own waste disposal practices do not affect other islands, but they can do little on their own to stop others engaging in poor practices near their island. The U.K. government would need to take the lead in enforcing regulations in the vicinity of the Tristan da Cunha islands, such as proper fishing techniques, waste disposal, and preventing alien species establishing. To effect change to reduce local vulnerability, global players must act globally.
This phenomenon is not unique to islands or to isolated locations. The nature of Tristan da Cunha's isolation and its status as an overseas territory make the connections obvious. Whether or not its isolation, and the interest in Tristan da Cunha due to its isolation, assist or hinder the reduction of global vulnerability is yet to be seen.
Turks and Caicos IslandsSome Resources:
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