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27 Oct, 2015

Strong El Niño will ‘test’ disaster resilience in hazard-prone Pacific region, UN warns

26 October 2015, SUVA (UNISDR media release) — The Head of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), Margareta Wahlström, today opened the 2015 Pacific Regional Disaster Resilience Meeting amidst fears that El Niño will result in more extreme weather events across the hazard-prone region of small islands and atolls.

Ms. Wahlström said: “These coming months have the potential to be the most testing period in the history of the Pacific Islands. The region’s vulnerability was exposed during the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in March when Cyclone Pam inflicted heavy losses on Vanuatu. Warming waters and rising sea levels resulting from climate change threaten the viability of life in many places in the region.

More than 200 senior representatives are examining how to implement the Sendai Framework in the Pacific (Photo: UNISDR)

“Disaster risk management will be put to another severe test in the coming months. The Pacific Island Climate Outlook Forum has said that because of El Niño the risk of a typhoon in the western and central north Pacific is above normal for the remainder of the year. Most of the islands meeting here in Suva this week face disaster risk from possible high winds, storm surges and extreme rainfall. Some are also experiencing severe drought and water shortages because of El Niño.”

The meeting is the first in the region since the adoption of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and is seen as an opportunity to identify actions which help to reduce disaster losses across the region. Discussions will range over what measures are still required to ensure that the general public are risk informed and have access to early warnings and cyclone shelters. Other priorities include strengthening risk governance, investing in disaster resilient infrastructure and having plans in place to build back better after disaster strikes.

The meeting is being attended by representatives from government, local government, the private sector, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, UN agencies, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and several NGOs.

Spotlight on disaster risk reduction and response in the Pacific

Suva, Fiji, 26 October 2015 – Hundreds of disaster risk reduction and humanitarian response partners from across the Pacific are gathering in Suva this week for a joint program of events around regional resilience to disasters and emergency management.

The week starts with the two-day Pacific Regional Disaster Resilience Meeting which brings together disaster management agencies and others to discuss the challenges of improving disaster management across the region with a view to saving lives and reducing disaster losses.

“The Pacific is a challenging environment for disaster risk management. It is very exposed to extreme weather events such as Cyclone Pam which hit Vanuatu hard earlier this year. Parts of the region are now suffering drought and water shortages because of El Niño while others are preparing for the strong likelihood that they will be hit by high winds, storm surges and heavy rainfall in the months ahead,” Timothy Wilcox, Head of the Pacific office of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) said.

“This week will be a first opportunity for the region to examine how to implement the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction which was adopted as a global blueprint for reducing disaster losses earlier this year. The Pacific region is well-placed to take a lead on showing the importance of being able to manage disaster risk as opposed to simply focusing on disaster response. A lot of good solutions will be shared this week.”

On Wednesday and Thursday, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) hosts the annual Pacific Humanitarian Partnership Meeting which aims to strengthen relationships between actors working in disaster response, resilience and recovery, as well as make preparations for the season ahead.

“Humanitarian needs are on the rise across the world. In the Pacific, countries are acutely vulnerable to a range of increasing natural hazards and the emerging impacts of climate change. It has never been more important for those working across development, humanitarian response and risk reduction to be synchronized. That’s what this joint program of events is all about,” Sune Gudnitz, Head of the UNOCHA, Regional Office for the Pacific said.

“With El Niño posing a risk to 4.6 million people across 11 countries in the region, this meeting will be a critical opportunity to plan for what is shaping as an intense period ahead. The meeting is also a forum for humanitarian and development actors in the Pacific to commit to actioning some of the outcomes from the World Humanitarian Summit regional consultations earlier this year, particularly around placing affected communities at the heart of our work and bridging the humanitarian-development divide.”

In the lead up to the joint program of events, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) last week held a two-day workshop bringing together Pacific Red Cross leadership and national disaster management representatives to explore how to strengthen legal frameworks for disasters in the region.

“Pacific Island countries are disproportionately affected by natural disasters, while there are many initiatives in resilience and preparedness what is often overlooked is the area of legal preparedness. Not only can strong laws help to save lives in a disaster, but they can also contribute to building stronger, safer, more resilient communities,” Aurelia Balpe, Head of Pacific Regional Office, IFRC said.

On Friday, the European Union and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) will host a meeting of the Regional Steering Committee for the EUR 20 million EU-ACP Building Safety and Resilience in the Pacific (BSRP) project.

“I’m honoured to participate in this very important event with our partners to help Pacific Island countries build their resilience against disaster and climate change impacts. The EU has stood side-by-side with our Pacific friends and we are here to share and learn the lessons from disasters such as cyclone Pam and how we can do more and better,” the European Union Ambassador for the Pacific, Andrew Jacobs said.