Participating schools help to paint Coca-Cola Company syrup barrels that have been retrofitted into rain barrels.

Why Climate Change Matters to the Health of Small Island States

By Climatelinks

Small island developing states often face a vicious cycle where limited financial and medical resources affect economic growth and development, which further limits the ability to manage increasing impacts from climate-sensitive diseases, such as the recently highlighted cholera outbreak risk that accompanies seasonal flooding. That’s where interventions developed through the Sustainable Development Solutions Network might help.

Barrels by the Bay is one such solution recognized as a low-cost, youth-led water collection system that could be expanded internationally to assist small islands with their unique water management challenges in an era of increasing climate variability.

Owing to their geography and location, small island states are some of the most vulnerable countries. Year-after-year they are subject to weather events like hurricanes and seasonal periods of high rainfall. In the future, climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of these routine climate events, and also increase many health risks associated with the amount, timing and quality of water.

“Barrels by the Bay has shown that even small efforts can be part of the solution. We would love to see this effort expanded to support small development island states manage flooding and water storage challenges in ways that contribute public health benefits,” says Megan Rosenberger, founder of the initiative.
Barrels By the Bay - installation
Barrels By the Bay works to install and educate communities about the importance of rain barrels.
Barrels By the Bay

As local climates experience increasing precipitation and higher temperatures, islands in tropical and temperate regions will present more favorable conditions for vector borne diseases. In the past few years alone, islands around the world have demonstrated higher numbers of vector borne disease cases and new disease introductions, as happened with the 2013-2014 chikungunya outbreaks in the Caribbean and Pacific.

According to data presented by the Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization, a five-fold increase in the number of dengue cases in the Americas between 2003-2013 indicated a rising trend in vector borne diseases, with poor community development and climate change cited as some of the leading contributors.

Additional outbreaks of the Zika virus in 2015, likely introduced from the Pacific, also highlight similarities in environmental conditions that can enable a particular vector borne disease to thrive.

Human carriers undoubtedly play a key role in the introduction and spread of these diseases. Understanding how people interact with disease vectors—such as the Aedes aegypti mosquito that transmits the Zika virus, for example—is critical to anticipating increased linkages between climate change and the health of people living on islands. 

As urban populations on islands continue to grow, denser living conditions increase the number of people at risk of contracting climate-sensitive diseases. Increased climate impacts, such as excessive rainfall and flooding, will impact areas with poor water management and sewage disposal, further facilitating mosquito breeding. 

The Role of Youth-led Solutions

In the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, young people are actively contributing to the 2030 Agenda – many of which include projects that are easily transferable, and scalable, to other parts of the world, just like Barrels by the Bay. Through their integrated approach across the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), young people are developing innovative climate-related solutions that interlink with other SDGs on agriculture, economic productivity, and gender equality.

Youth-led climate adaption solutions working on water collection and flood management, especially demonstrate a strong potential for addressing health-related targets against vector borne diseases. As recommended in the Youth Solutions Report, additional strengthening of youth solutions through regional partnerships, financial investors, and the invaluable advice of experts on best practices, can further reinforce their impact in the global communities they work in.

Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Climate Change, Health, Water and Sanitation
Asia, Latin America & Caribbean



Climatelinks is a global knowledge portal for USAID staff, implementing partners, and the broader community working at the intersection of climate change and international development. The portal curates and archives technical guidance and knowledge related to USAID’s work to help countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. 

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