The Pacific region is frequently hit by natural disasters such as cyclones, floods, droughts and earthquakes. Pacific countries rank among the highest in the world in terms of numbers of casualties and people affected. The European Commission provides humanitarian assistance to the region both in terms of disaster preparedness and emergency relief when major disasters strike.
In response to the impact of the 2015-2016 El Niño system in several Pacific countries, the European Commission’s Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) has released funds for drought relief in the hardest-hit country, Papua New Guinea.
Following Tropical Cyclone Winston that swept across Fiji in late February 2016, the Commission made €1 million available to provide emergency assistance to the most vulnerable families. In addition, through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, essential relief items were also delivered to impacted communities.
Promoting and enabling active participation of both women and men in training, planning and decision-making for Disaster Risk Reduction* and emergency response is crucial for reducing vulnerability to natural disasters in the Pacific. It is also important to develop links with development programmes and climate change action to increase community resilience to natural disasters.
Humanitarian situation and needs
The Pacific is one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world in terms of the recurrence, severity and scope of hazards, with high exposure to cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, tidal surges, landslides, drought, forest fires and volcanic eruptions, as well as epidemics. This is compounded by environmental degradation and the negative impact of climate change. Most recently in February 2016, large parts of Fiji were struck by Tropical Cyclone Winston, claiming 43 lives and affecting over 350 000 people.
Lack of economic diversity, remoteness from major trade and commercial centres, and strong gender inequalities, are factors which characterise many of the Pacific island nations and exacerbate their vulnerability to disasters. With a total population of some 10 million spread across a vast area, the death toll and number of people affected by natural disasters can appear rather low in standard disaster statistics, but the Pacific countries rank among the highest in casualties and people affected per number of inhabitants.
The complex El Niño phenomenon continued to affect the Pacific in 2016. It usually affects precipitation levels, leading to different impacts in different places: exceptional rainfall, cyclones, frost and drought. Its effects, however, vary from one occurrence to the next, making it extremely difficult to make predictions. The European commission closely monitors any unusual weather patterns because of its potential impact on people and their livelihood.