SOPAC extends offer of assistance to Fiji

News and Press Release
Originally published
The following is the text of a message sent from the SOPAC Secretariat to the Fiji National Representative to SOPAC, Bhaskar Rao, Director of Mineral Resources Department, 17th January, 2003
"...Dear Bhaskar,

Tropical Cyclone Ami

In the aftermath of Cyclone Ami, and as a result of our initial discussions both with yourself and the National Disaster management Officer, Joeli Rokovada, I am writing to confirm the following by way of offer of assistance from the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC).

In determining how best SOPAC may assist I would like to first highlight the following points.

SOPAC's regional mandate in disaster management is now better considered in the broader context of risk management. This is carried out through the new SOPAC Community Risk Programme which has a goal to improve hazard assessment and risk management practices to build safer communities.

  • With a broader regional implication it may be worth considering any SOPAC assistance in the context of a decision by the Forum Leaders at their last meeting here in Suva. The Leaders "In order to build resilience of Pacific Island Communities at all levels, supported the development of a framework for addressing environmental vulnerability and the day-to-day management of land and coastal resources including the introduction of measures and monitoring at the national level and where appropriate at the sub-national levels within 5 years."
  • The main geographic areas affected at this point in time appear to be: eastern Vanua Levu and nearby smaller islands including Rabi and Taveuni; the islands of the Lau Group; and in addition the urban areas of Labasa and Savusavu.
  • In addition to the severe wind damage to houses, infrastructure such as Telecom masts and dishes, together with crops...... I suspect from the initial reports coming in that the north coast of Vanua Levu from Labasa eastwards to be badly affected by flooding from excessive rainfall and/or sea surge. This also applies to the lowlying coastal islands of central Lau (around Lakeba) Why?...the cyclone passed these two areas at high tide (albeit not a very high tide). Further significant increase in the abnormal height of the sea surface, was a result of the cyclone tracking east of Labasa and west of Lau bringing strong onshore northerly winds and in the direction it was moving. The cyclone was an intense one (the Met Office says so) and it was moving fast 20-30+ km/hr.
  • In the case of Vanua Levu, I estimate over 90% of the drainage of the eastern half of the island is to the north coast. So the water level build up at the coast from onshore rain would compound the sea surge especially in river/stream lowlying floodplain areas which is where many villages are located.
  • Following the flooding in Labasa in April 2000, SOPAC completed a report reviewing the history of flooding in Macuata Province. The report explored a number of options for reducing future flood losses including: adequacy of floodgate capacity; improving informal flood warning systems; better floodplain mapping and recording of flood histories as a foundation for improved planning and management; education of communities vulnerable to flooding, especially the isolated communities northeast of Labasa, to have a degree of self reliance. The impacts of Ami provide an opportunity to update and review this work.
  • SOPAC in conjunction with Emergency Management Australia (EMA) is in the process of providing 10 high frequency radio sets to the NDMO. Regretably, these were not operational at the time of Ami as the installation of the antenna masts was not completed.
  • MRD acquired a high resolution digital colour satellite image of Rabi taken late 2002 which SOPAC and MRD staff are working on. The image can see features as small as 2.5m on the ground. Post Ami images can be acquired cost-effectively particularly for Eastern Vanua Levu and nearby larger islands such as Rabi.
On the specific issue of assistance to the affected communities we are in a position to carry out a rapid GIS-GPS based damage assessment of Labasa and coastal areas of northeast Vanua Levu as far as access permits, together with Savusavu. The results would be produced digitally in a spatially correct geographic infomation system, one layer of information would be devoted to on the ground imagery of the damage. This would best be carried out in conjunction with the surveys currently being undertaken by the DISMAC teams. We are ready to deploy at your advice in the next week. This gives the opportunity to update the earlier work around Labasa. In addition, this could be supported by a wider geographic study utilizing post-Ami satellite imagery when available.

On the issue of assistance at the national level, SOPAC can support the NDMO and other government departments with applying the lessons learnt from the damage survey which will be available to assist with future planning not only in those areas affected by Ami, but also for example in other flood prone areas such as Labasa. These include Nadi, Nausori, Ba, Sigatoka, Navua, and Korovou towns, indeed most of the urban areas of Fiji outside of the greater Suva area. SOPAC looks forward to the Fiji component of the regional European Union project "Reducing the Vulnerability of Pacific Island States", which you have decided will focus on the Suva-Nadi corridor of southern Viti Levu, being of value in this regard.

The vulnerability of all urban areas highlighted above raises the issue of adequacy of current risk reduction, risk management practices, and whether all viable options, such as for example catastrophe insurance as discussed at the last Forum Economic Ministers Meeting have been explored.

Fiji you will be aware has committed at a high political level to implementing a comprehensive hazard and risk management approach. The impact of Ami provides a timely opportunity to launch this initiative with the nation at large. SOPAC stands prepared to assist with such an initiative.

Effective communications to all islands is paramount. Evidently difficulties were experienced during Ami. The communications issue was relevant in the case of the recent cyclone Zoe in the Solomon Islands. As we raised with the Solomon Islands and now with Fiji, the need for cost-effective, reliable and easy to operate and maintain communications with remote islands is nothing new for the Pacific.

It has for example been discussed at several regional meetings of national disaster managers, and is embedded within the new Pacific Islands Information and Communications Technology Policy.

Maybe in the context of the recent Leaders decision, a lesson-learned from Ami, which Fiji could promote regionally along with Solomon Islands, is to put in place a donor-supported programme to strengthen over the next 5 years, effective national communications with remote outer islands in the region. Indeed, the radio technology currently being provided by SOPAC in conjunction with EMA may provide a model.

In concluding, may I stress that the SOPAC Secretariat stands ready to respond to a request from Fiji to carry out effective work in a timely fashion once any essential response and rehabilitation work has been got underway. I hope the above, somewhat lengthy notes may assist you in taking us forward.

I await your advice.

Russell Howorth
Deputy Director..."

For further information contact the SOPAC Secretariat: Phone 679-3381377,
Fax 679-3370040 or email