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Based on the review of a number of consultant and other reports, including the Commonwealth Secretariat Report and the Report of UNCTAD, the expert group concluded:

  • a.SIDS are more vulnerable than other groups of developing countries
  • b.SIDS' vulnerability is structural, which means that shocks are beyond the control of national authorities
  • c.Indicators should reflect exposure to shocks, their magnitude and their probability
  • d.A large number of possible indicators of vulnerability can be conceived, but only those consistent with the above definition of vulnerability should be used; some structural handicaps cannot be considered as vulnerability
  • e.Not all potentially relevant indicators can be meaningfully included in a composite vulnerability index because of constraints imposed by data, the difficulty of quantifying some indicators, and the need for simplicity

The expert group examined the conceptual relevance and feasibility of a number of indicators in reflecting countries' economic and ecological structural vulnerability. The group agreed that indices should indicate the relative susceptibility of economies to damage by natural disasters. This would show environmentally induced economic vulnerability. The relative susceptibility of the ecology to damage by anthropogenic activities or exogenous factors would reflect ecological vulnerability.

On the basis of the available data, the expert group examined the impact of natural disasters on a number of economic indicators. The group concluded that it would be useful and feasible to consider the frequency of occurrence of natural disasters weighted by the percentage of the population affected.

While the group recognized that an index of ‘Human and Economic Loss due to Natural Disasters' had been recommended to the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development (August 1996), it felt that such a broad index had not yet reached the stage of being operationally feasible. The group suggested that efforts should continue to undertake systematic assessments of the economic impact of natural disasters which could eventually be used for this purpose.

Exposure to trade shocks was also extensively discussed. It was agreed that openness to trade (or any indicator based on trade/GDP ratio) should not be considered per se as an indicator of vulnerability, but that it could be considered as a weighting factor for measuring the exposure to risk incurred by a country. The risk could be proxied by a concentration coefficient of exports of goods and services, and then possibly weighted or multiplied by an export/GDP ratio. The indicator could be, for instance, the ratio of the three leading exports of goods and services to GDP taken as an average for a number of years. This indicator could be complemented by an index of instability of the exports of goods and services. Remittances could be added to the value of goods and services.

It was suggested that UNCTAD, in its future work, consider the feasibility of including services in the computation of the concentration index as this would increase its relevance to SIDS and other developing countries.

The group expressed concern over the lack of data needed to compute variables relevant to economic vulnerability for many SIDS and recommended that emphasis be given to filling these data gaps.

It was not possible to construct a composite index of ecological fragility. It was proposed however, to continue building this index, taking into account a number of factors, such as biodiversity, climate change and sea-level rise, and exposure to oil spills.

It was suggested that for each country a set of data including time-series data for the separate indicators should be collected - and specifically requested when data are missing - in order to design a vulnerability profile covering both economic and ecological aspects.

The expert group noted that many SIDS faced vulnerability related to social and cultural diversity and suggested that further studies were needed. The group recommended that qualitative work in this area continue.

Finally it was considered that other groups or bodies, such as the Committee for Development Planning (CDP), drawing on a broad list of indicators such as those included in the reports prepared for the meeting, could build specific composite vulnerability indices based on two or three significant indicators; for instance, for identification of Least Developed Countries.