Climate change the greatest national security threat for Fiji, as the country strengthens disaster preparedness

“The next disaster will strike when the memory of the last one has been forgotten.” Thus reads the first line of Fiji’s National Disaster Risk Reduction Policy, which was formally launched in Suva late in December 2019.

For the people of Fiji, the memory of Tropical Cyclone Winston, one of the strongest cyclones ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere, which wreaked havoc across the island nation in February 2016, is hard to forget. It killed 44 people and affected over 500,000 others, over half of Fiji’s population. The disaster destroyed or damaged 40,000 homes and caused US$1.4 billion in direct economic losses.

Cyclones are a feature of life in Fiji – with Tropical Cyclone Sarai making landfall at the end of 2019, killing at least two people and causing the evacuation of 2,500. Earthquakes and tsunamis threaten the island nation, while the risk of flooding and drought – both exacerbated by climate change – remain high.

In December 2019 the Prime Minister of the country, the Hon Voreqe Bainimarama, made it clear that climate-related disasters are the greatest national security threat to the country. Having returned from Madrid after participating in the 25th round of the UN climate change negotiations – COP25 – on 18 December 2019 he said: “By managing disaster risks, we’re protecting our progress across every front of development. We’re protecting the massive investments we’ve made in health, education and the extension of critical services. We’re protecting the businesses that are steadily growing across the country. We’re protecting our roads, our bridges and other infrastructure. And we’re protecting lives, plain and simple.”

At the national level, the CDAC Network, in partnership with Ground Truth Solutions, funded by the Australian Government (DFAT) and in close cooperation with the Fijian National Disaster Management Organisation (NDMO) and the Ministry of Communications, has been working to assist the country better prepare for disaster.

In 2018, a Communication and Community Engagement (CCE) scoping mission was undertaken with collective preparedness identified as a gap. With the approval of the NDMO, in May 2019 work began on setting up a common service leading to the establishment of the Fiji Communication and Community Engagement Working (CCEWG) as a preparedness platform for the coordination of CCE activities in times of disaster.

The platform is designed to foster collective, coherent and coordinated community engagement using multiple channels that feed into decision making. That this working group is active before a disaster has struck means that best practice in communicating and engaging with communities is being established for a time when – and for Fiji is a matter of when – the next disaster hits.

In addition, establishing the platform before a crisis allows for the potential to strengthen community relations, improve programme quality, and create an evidence base for response impact.

To find out more about CDAC’s work in Fiji, read the scoping mission report.

CDAC supports more than 20 national and regional common service platforms on Communication and Community Engagement across the globe. Find out more about these platforms by checking out our common service status update.