Pacific nations some of the highest at risk of disasters | Pacific Beat

Pacific nations some of the highest at risk of disasters

Pacific nations some of the highest at risk of disasters

Updated 10 October 2013, 11:13 AEDT

Fiji is one of five Pacific nations ranked among the top 15 disaster risk countries in the world.

That's the stark message given to the media in Fiji during a training session with UNSDR, the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction in Suva.

It's part of a process that will see the development of a new integrated disaster risk management and climate change strategy for the Pacific by 2015.

Tim Wilcox, the sub-regional coordinator for UNSDR in the Pacific says that a recent report shows the vulnerability of many Pacific countries.

Presenter: Richard Ewart

Speaker: Tim Wilcox, sub-regional coordinator for UNSDR in the Pacific

WILCOX: World risk report done last year showed that out of the top 15, Fiji was one of them. The other four being Vanuatu, Tonga, PNG and Solomon Islands, and out of the top 15 Vanuatu ranked number one and Tonga was number two, Fiji being number 15. So having three countries out of the top 15 shows the vulnerability and the exposure of many of the Pacific Island countries are exposed to disasters here in the region.
EWART: Is it possible to say whether the situation in terms of those rankings has changed markedly, or are we really reinforcing the level of risk that we've known about for some time?
WILCOX: I think things are changing here, I mean a lot of work is being done in the region, particularly now at the community level and also with the private sector helping them understand the concepts of disaster risk reduction and the importance of providing investments, putting more investments into disaster risk reduction and actually trying to reduce the exposure many of these buildings and infrastructure the communities have towards natural hazards, such as cyclones and floods and drought. And while I think it might take a few years before we see any marked decrease in those risks and maybe having some of those countries come off the top 15, I think we are seeing some improvements, particularly in Fiji where we're seeing a lot more investments. But the awareness of the importance of putting in prevention strategies when people are constructing buildings or bridges and the importance of working with the community, are actually taking hold, which is good. It means the messages are getting through.
EWART: And plainly there is a very important message to get across, because just to look at some of the figure that I believe you've been dealing with over the last couple of days, Fiji apparently has a 50 per cent chance of suffering a 750-million US dollar disaster at some point in the next 50 years, and already on average is spending around two-point-six per cent of its GDP, that's around about 79-million dollars US a year to recoup from disaster losses as it stands. That's a pretty grim picture and bearing in mind Fiji's ranked 15, we have other countries in the region ranked higher than that, it doesn't look good does it?
WILCOX: Yeah it's important to understand that those figures are based on averages and from historical models, and again they're averages. So it doesn't necessarily mean Fiji will incur the 79-million dollar loss, but if you look at all the damage that has happened over the past 30 or 50 years and modelling, yeah it's quite a disturbing figure, which probably just emphasises the importance of investing in prevention strategies now so that communities and buildings and the private sector are more resilient. And our research shows that if as little as an extra 10 per cent extra into the budget of building a house or a building can actually make a building cyclone proof. So it's actually an extremely cost-effective measure. However we're still seeing people construct buildings that are not necessarily cyclone-proof, so when the building is damage or destroyed they then have to replace the building or they're constructing buildings and infrastructure in very high risk areas without taking into consideration all factors of cyclones and floods and landslides and storm surges from the sea. And that's really what we're trying to do is trying to get people to think about those things. So if someone wants to build a hotel for example on the beach they actually look at where they're building it and try to take measures to protect their investment, as opposed to simply repairing it every year or replacing key components. That maybe they look at where they're building and that they actually make the building cyclone-proof. And the research is there, it clearly shows that incorporating disaster risk reduction strategies at the beginning of construction and helping communities identify the hazards that they're exposed to and try to take steps to reduce those risks, is not only cost-effective but it benefits everyone in the long run, it reduces the number of deaths and reduces the overall cost countries have to bear, because as you say two-and-a-half-per cent of GDP that's a lot of money. And it means that for some of these developing countries that's money that they can't spend somewhere else, like maybe on the health sector or the education sector. And if the country's only growing at a few per cent GDP a year and it's losing two to three per cent GDP a year on disasters, then it's not really growing is it?
EWART: Absolutely not and I'm thinking you spent the last couple of days in training sessions with the media in Fiji, so what role would you anticipate that the Fijian media in particular could play in getting those messages across?
WILCOX: Yeah I think the first reason why we did it was to help them understand the concepts of disaster risk reduction. During the two days training course we had it was very clear that people were a bit vague on what it was everyone understood what disaster response was, that they were a little less unsure about what disaster risk reduction was, how people take mitigation efforts to help prevent buildings being destroyed and damaged. And I think the media plays a key role, not just in passing on the message and increasing awareness of the vulnerabilities of countries and the hazards that people face, but they have an important role in terms of asking the right question of people. So that if they're talking to someone who's putting an investment somewhere, they don't just simple ask oh what's the economic benefit of the community around you, but they can also say and what steps are you taking to help prepare for cyclones, floods, and other disasters here in the region, to help protect the investment. And I think by doing that they're adding to the conversation of disaster risk reduction, and making people aware so that they know that it's actually in their interest and the community's interest to actually invest a little bit more in prevention strategies. And I think that's really important because it's clear to us that if the media doesn't understand what the concept of disaster risk reduction is, then it's a good sign that a lot of people probably don't understand what the concept of disaster risk reduction is.


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