About the Small Island Developing States

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) were recognized as a distinct group of developing countries facing specific social, economic and environmental vulnerabilities at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (3-14 June 1992). This recognition was made specifically in the context of Agenda 21 (Chapter 17 G). The United Nations recognizes the  38 UN Member States belonging to the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), an ad hoc negotiating body established by SIDS at the United Nations. AOSIS also includes other island entities that are non-UN Member States or are not self-governing or non-independent territories that are members of UN regional commissions. It should be noted that Bahrain is not a member of AOSIS.

Three geographical regions have been identified for the location of SIDS, namely, the Caribbean, the Pacific and the Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Sea (AIMS). Each of these regions has regional bodies to which the respective SIDS may belong for purposes of regional cooperation. These are the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and the Indian Ocean Commission (IOC). There are also sub-regional organizations for similar purposes.  

SIDS tend to confront similar constraints in their sustainable development efforts, such as a narrow resource base depriving them of the benefits of economies of scale; small domestic markets and heavy dependence on a few external and remote markets; high costs for energy, infrastructure, transportation, communication and servicing; long distances from export markets and import resources; low and irregular international traffic volumes; little resilience to natural disasters; growing populations; high volatility of economic growth; limited opportunities for the private sector and a proportionately large reliance of their economies on their public sector; and fragile natural environments.

The United Nations has been assisting and extending cooperation to SIDS in their sustainable development efforts through the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States finalized at the Global Conference held in Barbados in 1994, known also as the Barbados Programme of Action (BPOA). This programme was reviewed and revamped at the five-year review held at the Twenty-second special session of the General Assembly in 1999, and the ten-year review held in Mauritius (10-14 January 2005). The latter outcome is known as the Mauritius Strategy for Implementation of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (MSI). In 2014, the international community met in Apia, Samoa (1-4 September) for the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States the outcome of which was the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action Pathway, commonly known as the SAMOA Pathway.


The UN-OHRLLS mandate from the General Assembly calls upon the Office to engage in advocacy and mobilization of international support and resources for the implementation of the Programme of Action for SIDS.