Saturday, February 4, 2012

Extreme weather: Heavy rain and flooding in Fiji tests climate disaster preparedness


Fiji is experiencing heavy rain and major flooding with a 15-day state of emergency being declared in Fiji’s west coast areas. At least 8 people have died so far in the Fiji January-February 2012 floods with up to 51 reported cases of water-related diseases, thousands in evacuation centres and $30million in damages reported so far.

The Government’s Provincial Development and Multi Ethnic Affairs Ministry Permanent Secretary, Colonel Inia Seruiratu, declared the emergency on January 25 to apply to Ba, Lautoka, Nadi, Nadroga, Ra, and Tavua.

A 2009 publication produced by UNISDR and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) warned that in western Fiji, high-intensity floods would become more frequent. In the Nadi area, for example, these type of floods used to occur every 190 years, but with the influence of climate change by 2100 it is projected that they will occur every 25 years. (Institutional and policy analysis of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in Pacific Island Countries: final report (PDF))

"These types of events are likely to continue to occur," said Angelika Planitz, sub-regional coordinator for the Pacific for the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) in a media release.

"Scientists are exploring the evidence that climate change and developments in low-lying flood-prone areas such as Nadi and Ba are contributing factors. In the interim, improved preparedness and early warning, two important elements of disaster risk reduction, will have to remain important and urgent priorities."

Two of the affected Fijian cities, Nadi and Ba, are participating in UNISDR’s ‘World Disaster Reduction Campaign – Making Cities Resilient’ – an initiative to reduce urban risks from climate-related disasters.

Seventy-four evacuation centres across the country are housing close to three and a half thousand people.

"In Nadi, an Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP) helps to reduce the risk of flooding from low to medium intensity rainfall. Mitigating impacts from intensive rainfall, however, remains a challenge," said Ms. Planitz. "More low pressure systems are likely to approach Fiji in the coming days. It will be important to warn already affected populations of the potential threats. Getting the messages out to remote areas which are still out of electricity is an important priority," she added.

An initial probe into the flooding is assessing whether harvesting and farming practices contributed to the magnitude and intensity of flooding and the numerous landslides, according to an article in the Fiji Times.

Logging practices will also be investigated with Forestry permanent secretary Viliame Naupoto saying "I have teams out assessing and while it may be unfair to blame the extreme flooding on logging alone, I must say we want to know and will investigate why all these logs came down during this period of downpour," he said.

Fiji has a National Code of Logging Practice which stresses sustainable forest management and reduced impact logging. In recent years state authorities have enforced regulations against illegal logging and destructive logging practices. Clear felled logging practices are believed to have contributed to the intensity of the flash flooding that killed over 1,000, displacing 100,000 in the Philippines just before Christmas in 2011.

"It is time we relook at our forest code of harvesting practices, see if it is being followed properly, we need to see if we are doing something that is contributing to the situation. We also need to see if people are following the code properly. If it is found that these rules are not followed then we will go after those loggers. There is more rainfall and this contributed to the situation - but we need to learn very quickly." said Viliame Naupoto according to the Fiji Times article.

The flooding has been assessed as worse than the 2009 floods. Here is how Australia Network News reported the disaster on January 26, 2012:


Heavy rains are forecast to continue throughout the coming week with more flooding in low lying areas expected.

Sources