Disaster Risk Reduction in the Republic of Fiji, Status Report (July 2019)

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Fiji is one of the Pacific island groups, located within Melanesia which is one of the three major cultural areas within the geographic region of Oceania. The country is an archipelago state, consisting of 332 islands of mostly volcanic origin, of which 110 are inhabited permanently. The land area of Fiji’s islands covers 18,274 km2 , but the two largest islands of Viti Levu (where the capital Suva is located) and Vanua Levu encompass 85% of the total area (CBD, 2018). The overall geographic area covers almost 50,000 km2 , yet despite the size of the country, the majority of the population is concentrated into the two largest islands and urban centers. 75% of all people are inhabiting Viti Levu and 20% reside on the smaller Vanua Levu as of 2016 (Government of Fiji, 2016).

Administratively, the country is divided into Northern, Eastern, Central and Western divisions which are governed by a commissioner for the coordination of governmental activities at their respective regions (Rahman & Singh, 2011). These divisions consist of 14 provinces, headed by Provincial Officers (Roko Tui) at the local government levels, which are operating under the direction of the Ministry of Local Government, Housing and Environment. However, the governance responsibilities of the i-Taukei or indigenous Fijian villages are linked to the Ministry of i-Taukei Affairs at the national level (Winterford & Gero, 2018; Ministry of Finance, 2015). Issues related to community management are firstly discussed by the village councils, followed by district council before reaching the provincial councils and Roko Tui’s.

Fiji’s islands have a rich ecological diversity; approximately 52% of the landmass is covered by forests, which contain unique biodiversity not found anywhere else on the planet. Half of the flora and 90% of all insect groups present are endemic to Fiji (CBD, 2018). The islands and surrounding reefs also support distinctive marine ecosystems, which are still not thoroughly researched.

In terms of economy, Fiji is one of the most developed and fastest growing countries among the Pacific Island Nations, with largest growth sectors in tourism and sugar cane exports (Jayaraman, et al., 2018). Tourism alone contributes to over 10% of the total GDP, and it has been estimated that the direct and indirect effects of tourism to economic growth could reach over 30% (Fiji Bureau of Statistics, 2016). It is also the regional hub for services, such as flights and shipping, among the Pacific islands. However, the economy is still facing challenges due to disasters and external shocks, impacts of which are enhanced by remoteness and by the reliance on vulnerable agricultural exports and visitors. Furthermore, and despite the positive development trends, 35% of Fijians live below the poverty line, with 44% of the rural populations living in poverty in 2016 (Government of Fiji, 2016).

Countries of the South Pacific are among the most disaster-prone in the world, and Fiji is no exception. The country is located in the vicinity of the Pacific Ring of Fire, meaning that earthquakes, earthquake-induced tsunamis and landslides are a possibility. There are also two active volcanoes located in the region, and the volcanic soil is inherently unstable, which adds to the landslide risks especially in areas where farming and settlement is spreading to fertile slopes. Cyclones, heavy rain and flooding are yearly occurrences, and the most common disasters in the past have been the result of high-impact hydrometeorological events. Majority of the population and infrastructure is located in the proximity of the ocean, which results in heightened exposure to sea-level rise and weather-related hazards.