Newswise — Already burdened by extreme weather brought on by climate change, political upheaval and financial indebtedness, small island developing states are facing the immense challenge of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.   

With that backdrop, the Virtual Island Summit, held earlier this month and attended by 350 representatives of government, civil society, business and academics from more 60 different countries, could not have come at a better time.

The panel, mostly consisting of representatives from small island developing states, was brought together by the new Island Policy Lab housed at the University of Delaware. Discussions revolved around the urgency of identifying and implementing technology-based solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We are seriously looking at policy adjustments around the 'ease of technology transfer and diffusion' to island settings because speed is needed to address the current crisis that islands face,” said Kalim Shah, professor and Director of the Island Policy Lab. "And there is a need to recognize this opportunity to carry out fundamental resetting of how to deploy these assets to address island issues."

Perhaps the best insights came from innovators working to apply their technologies in islands to meet these challenges. Shah’s University of Delaware colleague Art Trembanis, a professor of Marine Science and Policy, discussed how his submersible marine monitoring systems can play a role in quantifying ecosystem damage to aid insurance valuations. Laura Hosman, a professor from Arizona State University, noted the successes of her solar driven learning tablets in remote places like Fiji. And David Ramjohn, of AlgEthernal Technologies, showed the economic potential of algae based products in islands.

While the strategies of the Caribbean and African island nations differed, members of the panel offered unique views including shared basic needs for standards and quality control measures on technology-based products, and transitioning to digital economies that include human capacity building. 

"It is clear that the nexus where we see success is where policy, technology and innovation align, and islands are the ideal place for this mash-up to show success but we [islands] often do not," said Anton Edmunds, St. Lucia’s Ambassador to the U.S. "Size, sophistication, lack of policy coherence and limited access to finance and fear are factors that mitigate against the success."

Edmunds added that a potential way forward was to merge the forces of private banking, insurance companies and "the pressure of advocacy by and from populations in the mix" for the deployment of new technology and innovation.

About the Island Policy Lab at the University of Delaware

The Island Policy Lab works with partners to provide policy options and solutions to its island partners and stakeholders, based on empirical, science-based evidence so that they can make sustainable decisions. In June, the IPL became the focal point of the University Consortium for Small Island States (UCSIS), which is made up of a dozen of island universities and supported by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA).