New report tackles natural disaster risks in Pacific

Anna Gero
Wednesday, 14 April, 2010
Bob Beale

Cyclones, tsunami, earthquakes, volcanic activity and climate change all pose major potential risks to Pacific Island nations and development projects aimed at reducing those risks need to be much better integrated with each other and with local agencies, according to a new report.

"Although there is much discussion surrounding the topic of integration, to date, very little research exists on how this can be achieved," says Anna Gero, one of the authors of the report by the UNSW Natural Hazards Research Laboratory.

"Successful integration of the many community-based projects related to climate change and disaster risk is crucial to making them effective and to reduce confusion and duplication of effort."

The report will be launched next week in Fiji and Samoa. The researchers will also be conducting related workshops in both places in association with the launch.

"Our study focuses on Fiji and Samoa as Pacific examples," Ms Gero says. "There is a clear need to bridge the gap between the science and local knowledge, in ways that are culturally appropriate."

The team conducted two extended periods of field work last year in Fiji and Samoa, interviewing people from 29 organisations and visiting villages, as well as taking part in the Mekong-Asia Pacific Community Based Adaptation Workshop in Samoa last August.

The report notes that the two of the major aid donors in the Pacific, Australia and New Zealand, will jointly contribute a total of about A$85 million in 2009 and 2010.

Pacific islands often experience natural hazards - such as tropical cyclones and storms, earthquakes, tsunami and volcanic activity - that cause significant economic and human losses, it says.

Examples included tropical cyclones Ofa and Val in Samoa in 1990 and 1991, respectively, which resulted in damage equalling four times Samoa's gross domestic product (GDP).

The 2009 tsunami affecting Samoa, Tonga and American Samoa killed almost 200 people and destroyed scores of coastal villages, while flooding in Fiji in 2009 resulted in damages of FJD$54 million with an additional FJD$5million in humanitarian costs.

"Pacific Island nations have limited disaster-mitigation capacity and are particularly vulnerable due to their small size, remoteness and a range of other environmental, demographic and economic factors," says Ms Gero.

A focus on community-based projects has been increasing over the past 20 years. Other research has shown that the benefits are particularly apparent for initiatives aiming to build resilience to disasters and climate change, as local communities are able to work with development partners and identify risks themselves using local knowledge.

Launch locations and times:
Monday, 19 April:  Suva, Fiji, at the Tanoa Plaza Hotel, 9am - 12:30pm
Wednesday, 21 April: Apia, Samoa, at the Lodge Fale, University of the South Pacific, Alafua Campus 9am - 12:30pm

Media contacts:
Anna Gero -  Email:
Tel: +61 2 9385 8982 (until Friday 16 April).
UNSW Faculty of Science media liaison - Bob Beale:  mobile +61 411 705 435