Full cost emerging of Fiji floods | Pacific Beat

Full cost emerging of Fiji floods

Full cost emerging of Fiji floods

Updated 15 February 2012, 13:51 AEDT

Fiji is getting closer to knowing the full impact the February floods are having on industry, economy and communities.

At the height of the floods, the rescue centres housed more than 100,000 people. Those people, the government and NGOs are still trying to rebuild their lives and their local economies.

A new report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, or IUCN, looks at the impact of Fiji's 2009 floods.

Presenter: Geraldine Coutts

Speaker: Dr Padma Narsey Lal, Chief Technical Adviser of the IUCN Regional Office for Oceania in Fiji

LAL: Disaster and floods are such events that while you might have an immediate impact but the flow-on and longer term impacts in fact is often more significant than what might be seen at the time of the event.

COUTTS: Let's be more specific, what effect is it having on the farmers, the mills and industry if we can take those issues separately, farmers first.

LAL: The farmers as you know based on our estimates had lost about 13 million dollars in terms of paying crops and the damage that was done to their homes, the fact of the floodwaters on their health as well. So that was the immediate impact. And of course as we all know that while we may have these numbers but there is always a human story behind it, and what we found was almost about 40 per cent of the farmers who were affected by the floods could be now considered to be living below the basic poverty line. That means that of course they don't have enough money to send their children to school, may not have enough food for the family etcetera

COUTTS: And the sugar mill industry?

LAL: Well the sugar, the mill itself was a factor, in particular one which was Rarawai mill. In terms of the total damage that was done to the mill or the miller was about seven-and-a-half million dollars. This includes of course the cost on the infrastructure, such as the train lines and the cane roads. So that's the kind of immediate to include the replacement value or the maintenance costs that would have to be incurred to bring some of this infrastructure back online.

COUTTS: Well this report also looks at the link between poverty, disasters and economic development, what did you find?

LAL: Well one of the main impacts as we all know that during the times of disasters of course they affect individuals and families etcetera, but that has got a major impact in terms of their economic wellbeing. So in the short term they may not have enough cash, but in the longer term the flow-on effects through the economy as a whole of course has a very much longer impact. The latest study that we have done looking at the actual poverty and disasters in the last 17 years we found that there's a direct correlation between the events of natural disasters and the development or the economic development or the economic growth. And we also looked at it the other way that what impact the disaster, the economic status or economic wellbeing measured in terms of GDP, have on these types of disasters. There's a two-way relationship and the relationship depends very much on the state of the economy, state of the household, state of the sectors, how sensitive they are to various disasters.

COUTTS: Well subsistence economies, and that's what we're talking about in part here, don't recover then after natural disasters?

LAL: Subsistence economies, in this particular case we're looking at the sugar industry, so there is a more commercial line of it, but subsistence of course also has, they have to suffering because they do not necessarily have any cushion both in terms of their own personal household savings. And this would then mean that they have to rely on whatever other means they can harness to be able to meet their daily needs.

COUTTS: Well a lot of effort of course after disasters such as the February floods in Fiji looks at what can be done, what alerts should be, all the technical assistance. But post-disaster impacts in terms of humanitarian assistance is very poor?

LAL: Well I think as usual during the disaster and immediately after the disaster the humanitarian assistance is very strong, both within the country as well by international agencies. And often the humanitarian assistance, I mean another question would be how effective humanitarian assistance is, is another question. But the fact that the immediate assistance that comes through is quite good. The real challenge comes in is when you're really trying to now recover and rebuild after the disasters. And of course that's really when things have to be put in place so that you minimise future risks, and unless you start looking at it in terms of the whole disaster cycle and sort of minimise risks to these kind of disasters, we are likely to see a similar or not greater impact in future. As we know climate change and other things are here.

COUTTS: Well another industry that's vulnerable and more so because of the hazards of floods and that's the sensitivity of the farmers, we've seen outbreaks of brucellosis or reemergence of it, has that got anything to do with it or is it just a hazard is a hazard and the farmers are suffering?

LAL: Well I think hazard is a hazard, because I mean it was learned that the outbreak of that is of course in another part of the country, so of course the flow-on effect of that is going to result in the economy as well. So what we're looking at is the fact of any hazard, and in fact hazards are quite significant. The poorer the community the greater the reliance on the primary sector such as agriculture, because we know that that's one factor that is highly sensitive and vulnerable to the natural calamities.

COUTTS: Well in summary then where should the investment be, in soft options, natural eco-systems, and what about the river itself?

LAL: Well assuming a lot of attention is given to some of the highly visible strategies, such as trying to realign the rivers or dredging the rivers etcetera. But one of the things we found in our analysis is that the changes that have taken place on the landscape in the sense of actually clearing of land, poor farm management, poor maintenance of drains and drainage systems, reclamation of the coastal wetlands areas - they all contribute to the rest of the places with which the rainfall and runoff and the floodwaters can recede. So unless you really look at that system as a whole, and address some of the strategies that can actually minimise future risk and reduce the sensitivity of the natural system, we'll find that any amount of trying to align the river is not necessarily going to actually help.

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