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 by disasters. Due to 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, volcanic eruptions, and epidemics. This is compounded by environmental degradation and the negative impact of climate change. In early February 2018, large parts of Tonga were struck by powerful tropical cyclone Gita, leaving more than 80% of the country’s total population affected. Later in the same month, a 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 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.
Since 2009, the EU has provided more than €12.4 million to support disaster preparedness programmes in the Pacific to increase vulnerable communities' resilience. 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 €18 million in humanitarian assistance to the region since 2008.
In February 2018, 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, This funding helped in the provision of emergency shelter, access to safe drinking water, health assistance as well as food and livelihood support. A humanitarian expert was also immediately deployed to take part in a rapid assessment of the situation on the ground.
In the same month, the European Union committed €110 000 to help communities affected by the 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
Earlier in February 2016, when tropical cyclone Winston made landfall northeast of the Fijian capital of Suva as a category 5 cyclone, the EU gave €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 were also delivered to impacted communities
Following prolonged anomalous weather patterns in Papua New Guinea between 2015 and 2016, the EU offered over €3 260 000 to enable its partner organisations to provide crucial relief assistance, restore livelihoods and build resilience amongst the most vulnerable families.