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Small Islands Big Picture episode 5: Who is responsible for high debt burdens in Small Island Developing States?

Written by Emily Wilkinson, Matthew Bishop, Rachid Bouhia, Shakira Mustapha

Small Island Developing States (SIDS), overall, carry some of the highest debt burdens on earth. These burdens are a reflection of poor access to development assistance and concessional financing, as well as dramatically heighted exposure to disproportionately damaging exogenous shocks, which make ‘building back’ a more frequent and expensive challenge than it is for larger states.

This episode 5 of "Small Islands Big Picture" explores debt in SIDS – a critical challenge with no easy solutions. Emily and Matt explain why many island states have built up such large debt burdens in the first place, how this impacts SIDS in different ways, and why it is so difficult to reduce. They discuss what can be done to augment SIDS’ ‘fiscal space’, whose responsibility it is to help them achieve this, and how new financial mechanisms might help.

In “Island Voices”, Rachid Bouhia talks about how better international support is critical for alleviating debt. In the “Explainer” section, Gail Hurley – who specialises in finance challenges of SIDS – provides 10 reasons why debt is so pressing, as well as reasons to remain hopeful and continue pushing for global change. In “The Big Picture”, Enrico Gaveglia and Shakira Mustapha discuss the challenges of alleviating debt burdens on the ground. Finally, in “No Stupid Questions”, Matt and Emily explain why the issue of debt in SIDS is not as simple as just paying down the debt.


  • Emily Wilkinson (host) | RESI Director and Senior Research Fellow, ODI
  • Matthew Bishop (host) | RESI Director and Senior Lecturer, University of Sheffield
  • Rachid Bouhia | RESI Director and Economic Affairs Officer, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)
  • Gail Hurley | Independent Advisor and Senior Researcher on Debt and Development Finance
  • Enrico Gaveglia | Resident Representative, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Maldives
  • Shakira Mustapha | Research Lead at the Centre for Disaster Protection


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