COVID-19 in the Caribbean Small Island Developing States: Lessons Learnt from Extreme Weather Events

Ian R Hambleton, Selvi M Jeyaseelan and  Madhuvanti M Murphy

The Lancet | June 02, 2020

The UN recognises 58 small island developing states, with 29 in the Caribbean.

The World Bank classifies most of the Caribbean islands as middle-income or high-income countries, and the UN Human Development Index is generally categorised as high across the region (2018 values range between 0·7 and 0·8).

Despite these positive development indicators, the Caribbean small island developing states share a common set of environmental, economic, and social vulnerabilities because of their absolute size and geographical remoteness.

The resources available to individual small island developing states limits their capacity to prepare for, and respond to, acute environmental and health emergencies. The Global Health Security Index—measuring the national capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to public health emergencies—is below 40·0 across the Caribbean (average of 32, range 24–38) against a global average of 40·2 and an average among high-income nations of 51·9.

The seasonal hurricane threat has always framed life throughout the Caribbean. Atlantic basin hurricane activity, measured by the accumulated cyclone activity index, has been high. Since 2000, 12 years have been informally classified as above normal, and in 2017 and 2019 hurricanes Irma, Maria, and Dorian devastated national infrastructures across ten Caribbean islands. Three of the 10 countries most affected by extreme weather events over the past 20 years are in the Caribbean (Puerto Rico, Haiti, Dominica).

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