The United Nation's World Risk Report looks at countries' exposure to natural disasters and their ability to cope with them.
Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea were also high on the list.
Presenter: Cameron Wilson
Speaker: Dr Jorn Birkmann, Scientific Director of the World Risk Index project at Germany's United Nations University
BIRKMANN: There are two or three core messages in this index and the ranking. I think as you outlined in the introduction, I think disasters are an issue, which generally societies want to prevent and it's not just the exposure to a hazard, like in Tonga, sea level rise on Vanuatu, earthquakes, tsunamis, but it's also the level of preparedness of societies and their inner structure, where, for example, a natural event can turn on extreme event can turn into a disaster, that is one of the core message of this report. And the ranking health is probably to identify areas where we should take a closer look at where we might have to strengthen or preparedness issues.
WILSON: So what is it then, what combination of factors cemented Vanuatu and Tonga at the top of this index?
BIRKMANN: Definitely it's the exposure to natural hazards. We have looked at earthquakes, floods, storms and sea level rise and drought and interesting that for example Vanuatu is actually a country that ranks highest and we have even gotten invitation to Vanuatu to explain why this is the case, but if you look at the exposure to natural hazards, for example, Vanuatu is exposed to earthquake risks, this is for the Pacific and Australian plate. It's even exposed to drought and definitely also to sea level rise.
Tonga compared to that has a higher exposure in terms of sea level rise and cyclones, so and the Pacific Islands I would say have a high likelihood to be affected by natural events, but whether an outcome will be (inaudible) disaster is really determined by the vulnerability of the society here. Not issues around poverty, education or preparedness role, but also issues of governance which other industries often do notice.
WILSON: So that might be the ability for the government to respond to an event, the emergency services in place, the type of housing that's in place. Are these the sort of things that put Vanuatu and Tonga in the unenviable position?
BIRKMANN: Yeah, the problem is if we want to have a global comparison, you can imagine it's quite difficult. I mean Vanuatu from a Central European perspective is warm. You have nice beaches etc in the Pacific and never left. On the one hand, you can compare that the exposure to floods in Pacific Islands and also in Germany and on the other hand, for example, to compare the preparedness level of a single police or fire brigade is difficult and therefore we had to use somehow more macro indicators which tell us where our countries in an event, for example, if they face a major drought, if they face a major flood, will have severe difficulties and, for example, in terms of performance at a state level we choose, for example, the corruption perception index in the fair state index and cases like, for example, Somali, clearly indicate that if you have a severe drought and people are affected. if you have a failed state, it's very difficult that people affected by the drought get to port by the national government.
WILSON: But what that aid or all those efforts get syphoned off along the way, if you like?
BIRKMANN: Yeah, we try to differentiate a little bit the preparedness also the kind of societal response capacity in terms of coping, so coping with indirect consequences in extreme events here you need the fire brigade, you need, for example, positions per capita, but we also look at adaptation issues. Sea level rise will come in 50 or 100 years, may be the first outcomes or impacts already, but the severe impact will come in a longer time frame. And here for example we said adaptation is much more about changing potential of society to be able to change, to yeah, for people to move into different livelihood.