The research study on understanding community-based Early Warning Early Action on the island of Tuvalu was conducted from December 2021 to March 2022. The study relied on qualitative research techniques using tools such as focus group discussions (FGDs) and key informant interviews (KIIs). The study finds that households in Tuvalu have developed different coping strategies to try and prepare for a range of climate-related hazards. Their commitment to protecting their families and assets remains high and they are already doing what they can with the resources and information currently available to them.
Most households reported cyclones as the major hazard of concern and the study found households to be most prepared for them. This is because there is a good early warning system on the cyclone’s landing time, strength of wind and direction available to help households prepare in advance. Being most prepared does not mean households will avoid being impacted by the cyclone, though. The ability of households to prepare effectively and act early strongly depends on their resources and socioeconomic status.
Drought was the second hazard of concern, but households were found to be the least prepared for it. This is mainly because of the lack of certainty on when a drought starts, when it will end, and how much rainfall to expect during the drought period. Households shared the limits of their early actions to reduce the impacts of droughts on water security, food security, health and their livelihoods. Households are not currently able to increase their water storage capacity or manage their water use to outlast the drought. These two factors are the most important actions for increasing drought resilience.
For fast-onset hazards like cyclonic storms, and associated storm surge and flooding, known preparedness strategies at the household level include listening to early warning advice on the radio, ensuring homes and assets are as secure as possible, moving to safer locations until the cyclones have passed, and having sufficient stored food and water for up to three days.
The study found that information on cyclones is provided in a timely manner from sources people trust, allowing those with the resources to act in advance. Other preparedness measures that can be put in place include improving construction requirements for ensuring the long-term durability of buildings, integrated land use planning, stronger sanctions for construction in hazard-prone zones and providing support through relocation.
For a slow-onset hazard like droughts, coping strategies used by households include investing in water storage facilities, reducing water consumption and recycling water. The study found that information regarding the onset of drought is not timely. Interviewees reported not knowing forecast information on expected rainfall, timing or duration; and, as such, were unable to make decisions on water recycling actions, water management or other preventive measures. It was found that households do not receive information on an impending drought until they already start experiencing water shortages.
Most families in Tuvalu – which is almost completely reliant on rainfall as the main source of fresh water – rely on tanks for harvesting rainwater. While this is adequate during a normal season, insufficient rainwater storage is a major challenge for households in Tuvalu when preparing for droughts. The households also reported interest for building skills, information and awareness related to the sustainable management of stored water as well as its maintenance over longer drought periods. This can be further compounded when drought follows another hazard such as storms, strong winds and cyclones that have already damaged water storage infrastructure (lese et al, 2021). High winds can damage the existing storage systems preceding a period of drought, reducing capacity for water capture significantly. Harvesting rainwater during these events is critical for households to have the opportunity to catch and store sufficient rainwater to manage the drought ahead. Hence, compounding hazards exacerbate the lack of water storage capability.
This has critical implications for the post-disaster response in Tuvalu, where early recovery activities are currently focused on providing food, hygiene, livelihoods support, shelter and meeting immediate water and sanitation needs. More research is needed on how to incorporate preparedness efforts for multi-hazards into post-disaster recovery programmes. This could, for instance, include community training for imparting repair and maintenance skills for householdlevel water harvesting systems. Support in the form of grants or microcredits can also be beneficial for households seeking to expand on their rainwater harvesting infrastructure. Additionally, timely information on expected droughts and other forecast information should be delivered ahead of time.
The study finds that women, who are primarily responsible for managing domestic water use within the household, felt least prepared for droughts, whereas men felt least prepared for cyclones as they are more actively engaged in mitigating the latter. Support from programmes and information should therefore be tailored to reach women and men as separate target groups, based on gender-specific needs and vulnerabilities.