Disaster response and climate change in the Pacific

Authors: Anna Gero, Stephanie Fletcher, Michele Rumsey, Jodi Thiessen, Natasha Kuruppu, James Buchan, John Daly and Juliet Willetts
Year: 2013

In small Pacific island bureaucracies, responsibility and capacity often rests with individuals rather than organisations. The adaptive capacity, resilience and disaster response systems of Fiji, Cook Islands, Vanuatu and Samoa were the focus of this research project. Investigation of these Pacific nations identified a number of common findings across all four case study countries. The most important determinant of adaptive capacity in the Pacific was communications and relationships, with both informal and formal mechanisms found to be essential to the broader disaster response system. Other important determinants of adaptive capacity were leadership, management and government structures, and risk perceptions. A common finding was the limited human resources for health and disaster response more generally, both in times of disaster response and in day-to-day operations. There was also a gap in psychosocial support after a disaster. Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) as an immediate post-disaster humanitarian need was relatively well established amongst responding organisations (although long term WASH issues were not resolved), while other humanitarian needs (health care, and food and nutrition) had varying stages of capacity often limited by human, financial and technical resources. Adaptive capacity was therefore constrained by current gaps which need addressing alongside a future focus where risk is changing. Drawing on these and other findings, recommendations for addressing key determinants of adaptive capacity were developed for relevant stakeholder groups including policy makers and practitioners in the disaster and emergency response sectors in Australia and the Pacific.

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