Natural hazards, ranging from cyclones to floods, droughts and earthquakes, frequently occur in the Pacific region. The pacific island countries (including Papua New Guinea, Fiji Islands, Solomon Islands, Cook Islands, and Vanuatu) rank among the world’s worst affected in terms of casualties and people impacted by disasters. Due to climate change, the region is witnessing intense fluctuations in weather patterns, such as changing temperatures and precipitation patterns, severe 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, in addition to epidemics. This is compounded by environmental degradation and the negative impact of climate change.
Lack of economic diversification, remoteness from major trade centres and strong gender inequalities characterise many 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 hazards 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 cyclone Harold, considered the most powerful storm to strike the South Pacific since 2016, the European Union provided earlier this year more than €500,000 to address the most pressing needs of those most affected. The aid focuses on delivering essential relief items such as emergency shelters, clothing, kitchen sets, clean water supply and hygiene kits.
In May 2018, when a volcanic eruption struck Vanuatu’s Ambae island, 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. Earlier in February 2018, the EU also contributed €400,000 to address the most pressing needs of the families affected by tropical cyclone Gita, considered the worst storm ever to 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. An EU humanitarian expert was also deployed to take part in a rapid assessment of the situation on the ground.
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. This included the distribution of emergency shelter and essential relief items, such as tarpaulins, blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, kitchen sets and hygiene kits, while also ensuring that the population received 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 for the provision of shelter, food assistance and access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene. Through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, essential relief items were also delivered to impacted communities.
Overall, the EU has provided more than €18.8 million in humanitarian assistance to the region since 2008, of which €12.4 million has supported disaster preparedness programmes in the Pacific. These projects have assisted community-based disaster preparedness actions, cooperation between community, village, provincial, regional and national levels, as well as the standardisation of disaster risk reduction tools, joint work, and the coordination of governmental and non-governmental organisations.