Satish Chand on the Challenges of Small Island States

July 06, 2010

Especially during the hot summer months, some of us might daydream about packing up and relocating to a small tropical island somewhere in the Pacific. From a development perspective, however, small island states face unique challenges—most obviously from rising sea levels, but also from the economic dynamics created by their small size and isolation. My guest this week is Satish Chand, a visiting fellow here at the Center for Global Development and a native of Fiji. On this week’s Wonkcast, we discuss a range of issues that affect small island nations, as well as Satish’s research on the effects of migration on human capital in Fiji.

Surprisingly, Satish tells me that nations surrounded by ocean share many of the problems of small landlocked countries. “Being landlocked impedes trade and communication just as much as being out there in the ocean,” Satish explains. Small populations and limited available land also make it difficult for these states to take advantage of economies of scale in providing basic services to their citizens.

On the key issue of climate change, island states are of course extremely vulnerable—for many, including Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands, their fresh water and arable land are located a meter or less above current sea levels. The threat of rapidly rising sea levels puts these small nations at the mercy of the climate policies of richer and larger countries. “By any account, they are the least responsible for the emission of greenhouse gases,” Satish says, “but they are the first who will pay the price.”

Near the end of our conversation, Satish and I discuss his work on migration and its effects on human capital in island nations. He explains how a division between indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians created a natural experiment to test the proposition that increased migration creates a deficit of trained professionals. His finding? On the contrary, migration due to discrimination at home prompted Fiji’s Indo-Fijian population to investment more in education, ultimately leading to greater numbers of skilled workers in Fiji.

Have something to add to our discussion? Ideas for future interviews? Post a comment below, or send me an email. If you use iTunes, you can subscribe to get new episodes delivered straight to your computer every week.

My thanks to Wren Elhai for his very able production assistance on the Wonkcast recording and for a draft version of this blog post.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.