Fiji Sun - - Big Story - Source: United Na­tions In­ter­na­tional Strat­egy for Dis­as­ter Re­duc­tion Feed­back: jy­otip@fi­

There were fears of very large loss of life when Fiji was hit in Fe­bru­ary this year by the first Cat­e­gory 5 cy­clone in its recorded his­tory, and the strong­est ever seen in the south­ern hemi­sphere. Cy­clone Win­ston brought wind speeds which would have lifted an air­plane, av­er­ag­ing 220 kilo­me­tres per hour and gusts of 315 kilo­me­tres per hour when it made land­fall on the ar­chi­pel­ago’s most pop­u­lous is­land, Viti Levu, pos­ing an un­prece­dented threat to the cap­i­tal, Suva.

Win­ston’s strength sparked com­par­isons with 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan which claimed over 6000 lives in the Philip­pines or the Labour Day hur­ri­cane which hit the US Florida Keys in 1935 killing 400 peo­ple. Early warn­ings dis­trib­uted through na­tional and so­cial me­dia, and close col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the Fiji Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Ser­vices (FMS), the pri­vate weather fore­caster NaDraki, the Na­tional Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment Of­fice and other ac­tors, pre­vented the death toll from ris­ing above 44 even though 540,000 peo­ple were af­fected. The death toll was still too high and a thor­ough anal­y­sis was pro­duced ear­lier this year by the Gov­ern­ment of Fiji in the course of car­ry­ing out a Post-Dis­as­ter Needs As­sess­ment (PDNA) with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of the United Na­tions In­ter­na­tional Strat­egy for Dis­as­ter Re­duc­tion and oth­ers. Fiji’s Min­is­ter for Na­tional Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment, Inia Seruiratu, said: “Fiji has made much progress in re­cent years in re­duc­ing dis­as­ter risk but Cy­clone Win­ston was a new ex­pe­ri­ence for us. It is likely the new nor­mal if cli­mate change con­tin­ues to bring us more and more se­vere weather events. We hope that our ex­pe­ri­ence and anal­y­sis of this dis­as­ter will help oth­ers fac­ing sim­i­lar sce­nar­ios par­tic­u­larly small is­land states. Re­duc­ing mor­tal­ity from dis­as­ters is the most im­por­tant part of our work.” The PDNA recog­nised that Fiji’s lim­ited ex­pe­ri­ence with such in­tense trop­i­cal cy­clones meant that “pub­lic un­der­stand­ing of the char­ac­ter­is­tics of a Cat­e­gory 5 sys­tem and its as­so­ci­ated risks was a huge chal­lenge. A num­ber of coastal com­mu­ni­ties ex­pected strong winds, but were un­pre­pared for the in­ten­sity of the storm surge, which con­trib­uted to the high level of dev­as­ta­tion of evac­u­a­tion cen­tres and hous­ing in coastal ar­eas.” One clear pos­i­tive was that the build back bet­ter strat­egy adopted af­ter Cy­clone Evan in 2012 proved its worth, All the houses built as a re­sult, stood up to Cy­clone Win­ston. FMS which has been a WMO recog­nised re­gional cen­tre since 1995, kept the pop­u­la­tion alert to the cy­clone’s progress as it took an er­ratic path through the Pa­cific be­fore mak­ing land­fall on Fe­bru­ary 20. FMS con­tin­ued to work closely with the Na­tional Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment Of­fice de­spite some dam­age to its fa­cil­i­ties fol­low­ing Win­ston’s land­fall.

It is es­ti­mated that Win­ston af­fected 540,400 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 263,000 women. The to­tal rep­re­sents 62 per cent of Fiji’s pop­u­la­tion of 865,000. A thor­ough post-dis­as­ter needs as­sess­ment pub­lished ear­lier this year points the way for­ward for how the coun­try can con­tinue to re­duce dis­as­ter risk and save lives. Cy­clone Win­ston’s 44 deaths were evenly di­vided be­tween male and fe­male. Two ano­ma­lies were noted in this statis­tic: 92 per cent of the deaths were among the iTaukei which make up 57 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion, and 37 per cent were among those aged over 65 years though they only make up four per cent of the pop­u­la­tion. One con­clu­sion was that “more can be done to fur­ther dis­sem­i­nate early warn­ings to a wider au­di­ence, es­pe­cially the vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion. Tele­vi­sion broad­casts could add sign lan­guage to the warn­ings, and text mes­sages could be sent tar­get­ing the hear­ing im­paired.” The post-dis­as­ter as­sess­ment also recog­nised that fur­ther work needs to be done to en­sure that evac­u­a­tion cen­tres are ac­ces­si­ble and safe for peo­ple with dis­abil­i­ties. The death toll among the el­derly was put down to age-re­lated mo­bil­ity is­sues. A new study which will be pub­lished on this year’s In­ter­na­tional Day for Dis­as­ter Re­duc­tion, October 13, shows that se­vere weather events have dou­bled in the last 40 years and are a ma­jor cause of dis­as­ter mor­tal­ity. Re­duc­ing dis­as­ter mor­tal­ity is the theme of this year’s In­ter­na­tional Day for Dis­as­ter Re­duc­tion on October 13 and the first tar­get of the Sendai Frame­work for Dis­as­ter Risk Re­duc­tion. It is a key con­cern of small is­land states such as Fiji which are bat­tling the im­pact of cli­mate change, par­tic­u­larly as a re­sult of warm­ing and ris­ing seas.

Since 1980, dis­as­ter events in Fiji have re­sulted in av­er­age an­nual eco­nomic dam­age of around $35 mil­lion and im­pacted around 40,000 peo­ple each year. In the same pe­riod, at least 186 peo­ple were killed by flood­ing and storm events alone.

Photo: In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Red Cross

Fiji has car­ried out a thor­ough post-dis­as­ter needs as­sess­ment in the wake of Cy­clone Win­ston, point­ing the way for­ward for dis­as­ter risk re­duc­tion.

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