Fiji is facing unprecedented challenges as a result of the compounded effects of COVID-19, Tropical Cyclone (TC) Yasa and TC Ana. Prior to the pandemic and natural disasters, 30% of Fiji’s population was estimated to be living in poverty, with many more undoubtedly on the margins.
People from all walks of life are doing their best to cope, with support being provided by multiple groups both within Fiji and overseas, but recovery efforts exist in a context of high levels of gender inequality and social exclusion. Women, people living in poverty, elderly populations, people with a disability, persons of diverse Sexual Orientation,
Gender Identity and/or Expression and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC) and any combination of these groups are bearing the brunt of the impacts. These inequities are the root causes of social vulnerability to disasters as they affect people's ability to anticipate, prepare for, survive, cope with, and recover from disasters. All humanitarian and development partners therefore must not simply manage disaster risk better but help address the root causes that drive risk and undermine resilience.
The need to address inequality and exclusion is particularly crucial in light of the long-term impacts of negative coping strategies including the consumption of cheap accessible unhealthy food, withdrawing children from school, or refraining from accessing health services to save money. In addition to increased stress and uncertainty having impacts on gender-based violence, mental health and abuse, results of negative coping mechanisms may also be associated with higher prevalence of malnutrition, non-communicable diseases (NCDs), child labour and poverty. The combined direct and indirect impacts of disasters and their associated consequences impact families and children in many ways, ultimately harming their socio-economic development.
These impacts will last long beyond the interventions of humanitarian actors. Relief initiatives are helping in the short term and Fijians are already demonstrating incredible resilience. However, without more strategic and targeted interventions to address systemic vulnerabilities and proactively build on successful initiatives, the impacts of the pandemic and cyclones will have intergenerational consequences. In addition, with extreme weather becoming the new normal as a result of climate change, the gender, disability and inclusion dimensions of the COVID-19 pandemic and cyclones will continue to affect Fiji’s resilience into the future.
The unprecedented challenges illustrate that there is no gap between humanitarian response and development. All stakeholders therefore need to examine the basic principles that underpin the humanitarian sector such as the Sphere standards, one of the most widely referenced humanitarian resources globally, and standards set locally through the Cluster system. Agencies including the Water Authority of Fiji (WAF), Energy Fiji Limited (EFL) and the Fiji Military Forces that are not traditional humanitarian responders, should be supported to meet these standards while organisations involved in humanitarian work need to consider longer-term implications beyond initial relief and recovery operations. There is insufficient consideration of the most vulnerable, and feedback from community members and humanitarian responders has demonstrated is that it is essential for all stakeholders to understand that blanket approaches without targeting the specific needs of marginalised groups - and involving them in the decisions that affect their lives - means that the most vulnerable will continue to be left behind.
The response to COVID-19, TC Yasa and TC Ana and recovery interventions cannot be siloed from the longer-term development agenda including the goals of addressing gender equality, disability and social inclusion.