Natural disasters ranging from cyclones to floods, droughts and earthquakes frequently occur in the Pacific region. 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 by disasters. Because of climate change, the region is witnessing intense fluctuations in weather patterns, such as changing temperatures and 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 natural hazards, with high exposure to cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, tidal surges, landslides, droughts, forest fires and volcanic eruptions, but also epidemics. This is compounded by environmental degradation and the negative impact of climate change. Increased seismic activity of Ambae volcano in Vanuatu, which began in March 2018, triggered emissions of gas clouds and heavy volcanic ash falls, causing trees, houses and other facilities to collapse. The eruption left over 1 400 people displaced in May 2018. Earlier in February 2018, large parts of Tonga were struck by powerful tropical cyclone Gita, which affected more than 80% of the country’s total population. In the same month, a strong 7.5-magnitude earthquake and a series of major aftershocks rattled Papua New Guinea. The tremors caused devastating landslides and widespread destruction, which impacted more than half a million people.
Lack of economic diversification, remoteness from major trade and commercial centres, and strong gender inequalities characterise many of the Pacific island nations and exacerbate their vulnerability to disasters. With a total population of some 10 million people spread across a vast area, the death toll and number of victims of natural disasters may appear low in standard disaster statistics; however, the Pacific countries rank among the highest in casualties and people affected per number of inhabitants.
In response to the volcanic eruption in Vanuatu’s Ambae island in May, the European Union provided €120 000 to support the delivery of essential relief items such as shelter tool kits, kitchen sets, solar lights, mosquito nets, and hygiene kits. In February, the European Union provided €400 000 to address the most pressing needs of the families affected by tropical cyclone Gita, considered the worst storm to ever hit the island nation of Tonga. The funding supported the provision of emergency shelter, access to safe drinking water, health assistance, food, and livelihood support. A humanitarian expert was also deployed to take part in a rapid assessment of the situation on the ground.
In the same month, the EU allocated €110 000 to help communities affected by the strong earthquake and aftershocks in Papua New Guinea through the delivery of life-saving aid to those most in need. This included the distribution of emergency shelter and essential relief items, such as tarpaulins, blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, kitchen sets, and hygiene kits, whilst also ensuring first-aid kits and health assistance
In February 2016, when tropical cyclone Winston made landfall northeast of the Fijian capital of Suva as a category 5 cyclone, the EU mobilised €1 million to support the provision of shelter, food assistance and access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene for the most vulnerable communities. Through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, essential relief items were also delivered to impacted communities.
Following prolonged anomalous weather patterns in Papua New Guinea between 2015 and 2016, the EU allocated over €3.26 million to enable its partner organisations to provide crucial relief assistance, restore livelihoods and build resilience amongst the most vulnerable families.
In an effort to increase vulnerable communities' resilience, the EU has 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-, regional and national levels and the 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 €18.3 million in humanitarian assistance to the region since 2008.