Wetenschap - 17 mei 2001

Small islands with big troubles

Small islands with big troubles

Islands can learn from each other's environmetal strategies

Small islands should exchange ideas on how to attack their huge environmental problems. At the moment they are the victims of numerous consultancies that perceive the islands as interesting experimental areas, says Bas van Vliet of the Environmental Policy Group.

"On the northern coast of the island Cura?ao in the Caribbean there is a bay which the locals call the plastic bay. The coral has been destroyed and garbage has taken its place. One of the many environmental problems on small islands," says Van Vliet. He has travelled to many islands and concluded that a different strategy is needed to keep the fragile environment of islands intact. "Landfills get full and water and energy supply is usually a big problem. Small islands tend to work in a very inefficient way. If they can exchange expertise, the situation may improve."


Van Vliet investigated environmental management on Cura?ao. Visiting other islands including Corsica, Zanzibar and the Dutch Wadden islands, he has noticed similar problems. "Although an island can be very small with few inhabitants, it requires many of the facilities that a big country has. An airport, an energy plant, landfills, sanitation and drinking water facilities. But these cost a lot of money for the number of people using them. An airport is built for only 100,000 people, when normally it is built for about a million people."

On many small islands a very urgent problem is what to do with all the waste, says Van Vliet. "Usually, they don't separate or recycle waste. On Cura?ao the landfills are getting full, new landfills are built, but at some stage the whole island will be one landfill. At the moment there is already a lot of garbage in places where it does not belong." And as tourist numbers increase, many islands face problems with their water supply. The Wadden islands in the Netherlands for example need at least three times as much water during the holiday season, says Van Vliet. "On many tropical islands, very expensive desalination facilities need to be built to provide drinking water."


Given the magnitude of the environmental problems small islands face, they should try to learn from each other's environmental strategies, he says. One island may have outstanding infrastructure, others a very efficient energy supply. Now, costly consultants are hired, and they may not have the best solutions. Van Vliet hopes to do a comparative study on environmental strategies on islands together with MSc students.

Hugo Bouter

Car scrapyard on Cura?ao, Netherlands Antilles. Small islands are faced with many environmental problems including those that ariseas a result of their limited possibilities for waste disposal.