• Opinion by Sudip Ranjan Basu, Sanjay Srivastava (Bangkok, Thailand)
  • Interpress service

Vanuatu sits in the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’ and experiences frequent volcanic and seismic activity. And along with the other Pacific Small Island Developing States (SIDS), Vanuatu faces existential threats from rising sea levels, ocean acidification and the increased frequency and severity of natural disasters and is on the front lines of the climate crisis.

The twin cyclones and an earthquake in just 48 hours remind the world that seismic and climate risks are converge and intensify – No society feels this stronger than those on the blue Pacific continent.

In terms of macroeconomic impact, in fact, SIDS in the Pacific face average annual losses from multiple hazards totaling US$1.1 billion in the current scenario. This figure will increase to $1.3 billion under moderate and $1.4 billion under worst-case scenarios for global warming. As a share of GDP, Vanuatu, Tonga and Palau are expected to suffer the biggest losses – Vanuatu is expected to lose a staggering 20 percent of GDP annually due to disasters.

Intensifying and expanding climate crisis

IN ESCAP’s latest report, the analysis shows that with 1.5 to 2.0 °C warming, there are likely to be intensified annual tropical cyclone wind speeds and that tropical cyclone risk is expected to expand to include newer areas beyond the historical tracks (Figure 2). Vanuatu in particular will experience higher tropical cyclone risk both in terms of the intensification and geographical expansion of the risk picture.

As cyclone hazards intensify and diverge from their traditional tracks, their greater complexity results in deeper uncertainties in forecasting ability. Our blue Pacific continent is not sufficiently prepared.

Formulate transformative actions

As the climate changes, the risk picture changes. These disasters risk exacerbating and cascading to amplify the great difficulties experienced by Pacific SIDS in terms of population and critical infrastructure exposure. The case for transformative action to mitigate and adapt to intensified and expanding disaster risks in the blue Pacific continent has never been more compelling.

First, early warning for all is an imperative, a need to capture compound risks.

The UN Secretary-General emphasized that all people on the planet must be covered by early warning systems by 2027. Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction sets the increase in availability and access to multi-hazard early warning systems as a clear target, target G, to be achieved by 2030. According to latest Sendai Framework reporting by Target Glarge gaps remain for many countries in SIDS in the Pacific (See Figure 3).

Relative to other countries in the subregion, Vanuatu’s Target G scores are high, reporting significant to extensive coverage of multi-hazard early warning systems across all indicators. The WMO Regional Specialized Meteorological Center in Nadi, Fiji provided early warnings of power outages and overcoming uncertainties – as a result, no deaths have been reported.

Second, transformative adaptation solutions are needed.

To minimize and prevent systemic and cascading risks, we need to make new infrastructure and water resource management more resilient. Improving the production of dryland crops and using nature-based solutions such as increasing the protection of mangroves are also prioritized adaptation solutions.

1.5 percent of GDP for adaptation investments estimated to be needed in Pacific SIDS – three times less than the estimated average losses. These adaptation investments must be risk-informed and strategically oriented towards policies that deliver high cost-benefits. Where there are multi-risk hotspots across the region, risk-informed policies and transformative actions should take advantage of cross-sectoral synergies and co-benefits.

Third, the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent provides a clear path

With the adoption of 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent by July 2022, Pacific SIDS has developed a clear path to synergize regional priorities with accelerated implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the SAMOA Pathway.

Next-generation risk analysis, advances in climate science, geo-spatial modeling, artificial intelligence and machine learning must be at the center of human-centered and evidence-based decision-making. And that Framework for resilient development in the Pacific is an ideal platform to carry forward some of the policy decisions.

Strengthening the sub-regional and regional cooperation platform

Tropical cyclones, often transboundary in nature, require an architecture of regional cooperation mechanisms to effectively manage the shared risks. In this case, local capacity and regional support mechanisms should be praised. To further strengthen this work, the lesson learned from Vanuatu’s back-to-back cyclones and earthquake is to have effective, impact-based and risk-informed early warning systems that can capture the complexity and dynamics of a compound hazard.

The Asia-Pacific Risk and Resilience Portal was developed by ESCAP with the goal of creating a user-friendly one-stop platform for policy makers to access a wide range of scientific information and decision support tools to promote risk-oriented policy decisions.

Furthermore, the incidents in Vanuatu highlight the need to conduct a rapid post-disaster needs assessment that can support the formulation of a long-term recovery strategy and plan for its reconstruction by applying a standardized approach with innovative methodology and frameworks.

The overlapping and cross-border nature of risks experienced by the countries of the blue Pacific continent cannot be addressed without solidarity and collective action to strengthen the regional cooperation platform.

Sanjay Srivastava is Director of Disaster Risk Reduction, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP);

Sudip Ranjan Basu is Deputy Director, ESCAP Subregional Office for the Pacific

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