The Pacific Region is frequently hit by natural disasters ranging from cyclones, floods, droughts to earthquakes. Pacific island countries, including Papua New Guinea, Fiji Islands, Solomon Islands, Cook Islands and Vanuatu, rank among the highest in the world in terms of numbers of casualties and people affected. The effects of climate change means the region is witnessing widespread changes in weather characteristics, such as fluctuating temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, intense storms, and rising sea levels.
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, droughts, 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 in 2015-2016 affected precipitation levels, leading to different impacts in different places, particularly drought in Papua New Guinea.
In February 2016, when tropical cyclone Winston, considered one of the most powerful storms to hit the south Pacific, made landfall northeast of the Fijian capital of Suva as a category 5 cyclone, the EU provided €1 million to support the provision of shelter, food assistance and access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene to the most vulnerable communities. Through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, essential relief items could also be delivered to impacted communities.
The previous year, following the prolonged anomalous weather patterns, involving less than average rainfall and a series of frost events triggered by the strong El Niño phenomenon in Papua New Guinea, the EU allocated over €1 260 000 million to enable its partner organisations to provide relief and build resilience amongst the most vulnerable families. Overall, a total of 75 000 individuals benefited from this aid, which included health and nutrition support, as well as access to clean water and the provision of water and hygiene kits. Farmers also benefited from training on drought resilient agricultural methods. As the dry spell continued into mid-2016, a further €2 million were released to meet urgent food needs and restore livelihoods of affected populations.
In March 2015, when super cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu with full force, the EU pledged funds for immediate relief to the most vulnerable families. The funding helped ensure impacted inhabitants in remote islands were able to re-establish contact with the rest of the country and coordination amongst humanitarian actors. Relief items such as basic shelter tool kits, tarpaulins and hygiene kits were also distributed.
In an effort to increase vulnerable communities' resilience and reduce their vulnerability, the EU has also provided more than €12.4 million to support disaster preparedness programmes in the Pacific since 2009. Projects have supported community-based disaster preparedness actions, linkages between the community, village, province, region and national levels and standardisation of disaster risk reduction tools, joint work and coordination of governmental and non-governmental organisations, and peer-to-peer learning and experience sharing.
Overall, the European Union has provided a total of over €17.7 million humanitarian assistance to the region since 2008.