Wednesday 8 May 2013, Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva, Fiji – Ms Margareta Wahlström, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction, says Fiji’s work to address flooding in Nadi provides an example for developing countries on integrating management of disaster and climate related risks.
In the Pacific, cyclones account for nearly 80% of all reported disasters. They are frequently accompanied by floods, which cause further social and economic upheaval. According to current projections, climate change and variability will intensify, increasing the frequency of high rainfall and cyclone events.
Until recently, Pacific Island countries and territories have been reactive rather than proactive in dealing with flood preparedness and response. But this is changing.
The 2009 floods in Fiji caused an estimated FJD 330 million in damage and lost earnings, equivalent to approximately 7% of the country’s GDP. In March 2009, just two months after the flood waters receded, the Fiji government launched its Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) demonstration project for the Nadi catchment. Managed by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) through itsApplied Science & Technology Division, the objective of this GEF/UNEP/UNDP project was to improve flood preparedness by introducing an integrated flood risk management approach within the Nadi basin.
The project built on an earlier flood response system by installing a network of hydrological monitoring stations and it has worked with communities to build grassroots capacity to coordinate an early response. Communities have been given assistance to develop their own disaster response plans and practise their implementation. The project has also helped coordinate the work of government and non-government agencies by setting up the Nadi Basin Catchment Committee.
The impact of the project was clearly demonstrated when Nadi again experienced serious flooding in January 2012. The availability of real-time hydrological data helped communities and disaster response agencies implement their response plans and minimise losses.
According to Joeli Cawaki, Commissioner for Fiji’s Western Division, public and agency responses to the flood events improved significantly as a result of the integrated approach facilitated by the Nadi demonstration project.
‘The integrated approach is working very well for Nadi, particularly in terms of the decision making – when to vacate the town, when to stop people moving in and out, and also to make people aware when the Nadi river is likely to burst its banks. The system is a success story for us. I think we need to do the same for the other big rivers in Fiji,’ he says.
In addition, this data can provide guidance on land-use practices and whether to avoid development in particular areas. It can also be used to calculate how high floor levels should be to protect buildings from flooding.
Over the last decade, sugar cane cultivation has crept higher up the mountain basins and deforestation for timber and wood chips has devastated upstream watershed areas. The result is more sedimentation and storm runoff, increasing the risk of downstream floods and degradation of coastal reefs. The IWRM project is now helping to reduce the impacts of deforestation and poor agricultural practices in the upper catchment.
The Fijian government recognises that the GEF demonstration project will serve as the management model for other catchments in Fiji and legislation establishing an integrated approach to catchment management is currently awaiting proclamation.