Pacific region leads the way

In disaster risk management & climate change

Shoreline stabilisation... along a stretch of road in Holopeka village, Lifuka Island, Tonga that is particularly prone to erosion.-- SPC

In July 2013, in a global first, the two main regional conferences on climate change and disaster risk management (DRM) will convene a joint meeting of the Pacific Platform for DRM and Pacific Climate Change Roundtable in Nadi, Fiji.

Representatives of Pacific Islands governments, NGOs, civil society, the private sector, the scientific community, regional, international and donor organisations and many more are expected to attend.
The joint meeting will benefit from the presence of Margareta Wahlström, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, and other international and Pacific ministerial level representatives.
“We are happy to have high-level representation to raise the profile and visibility of this first Pacific joint meeting on disaster risk management and climate change and to get high-level commitment and guidance for moving forward,” said Mosese Sikivou, of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community’s (SPC) Disaster Reduction Programme.
Natural hazards, according to the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction’s (UNISDR) Briefing Note on Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction (2008), become disasters when they affect a community that is exposed, vulnerable and ill-prepared.
Climate change is likely to exacerbate disaster risks in two ways: (1) through increasing the frequency and the intensity of weather—and climate-related hazards; and (2) by causing long-term ecosystem degradation and reductions in water and food availability, thus impacting people’s livelihoods.
This increases the vulnerability of communities to the adverse effects of natural hazards because it also lessens their natural resilience to recover.
The Pacific is a highly disaster-prone region exposed to a variety of natural hazards such as tropical cyclones, floods, king tides, droughts, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.
In terms of annual economic impacts from disasters, eight Pacific Islands countries are among 20 worldwide with the highest average annual disaster losses as a percentage of GDP.
The cost of damage in Fiji caused by Cyclone Evan, which also devastated Samoa in December 2012, is estimated at F$192 million.
Disaster risks and climate change thus severely constrain the social and economic development of the Pacific region and therefore addressing them is a key policy goal. Doing so in an integrated manner makes practical and economic sense.
Climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction both aim to reduce the vulnerability of communities and contribute to sustainable development, and there are significant overlaps in the methods and tools used to address them.
A recent study by the UN emphasises that an integrated approach will make better use of scarce resources and minimise duplication of effort and potential conflicts in policy development.
It also recognised that at community level, there is little practical difference between disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.
For example, upgrading coastal protection structures to prevent damage from storm surges or relocating homes away from low-lying areas to protect communities from projected sea level rise, can be seen as disaster risk reduction and/or climate change adaptation measures.
“An integrated approach to climate change adaptation and disaster risk management is the most effective and efficient way of identifying the full range of vulnerabilities that Pacific Islands communities are exposed to, and of managing risks, to deliver more targeted and effective outcomes,” said Brian Dawson, Principal Climate Change Adviser at SPC.
The joint meeting is a significant event in the process of developing an integrated Pacific Regional Strategy on Disaster Risk Management and Climate Change by 2015.
This over-arching policy instrument will be tabled before the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders in 2015, replacing two separate regional frameworks.
The development of this strategy will be supported by SPC, Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and UNISDR and led by Pacific Islands countries and territories through a steering committee.
The formulation of the strategy will incorporate lessons learned from the implementation of the current two regional frameworks (the Pacific Islands Framework for Action on Climate Change 2006–2015 and the Pacific Disaster Risk Reduction and Disaster Management Framework for Action 2005–2015) and consultations will be held throughout the following two years.
The resulting framework will provide long-term strategic guidance for implementing climate change and disaster risk management activities in the Pacific. The Pacific is the first region in the world to integrate climate change and disaster risk management into a single regional policy framework.
“The Pacific is taking the lead with the integration of climate change and disaster risk management. It is proof the region is focused and pro-active,” said Jerry Velasquez, head of UNISDR for Asia and the Pacific.

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