Racing for resilience How Pacific communities are preparing for the impacts of climate change

The theme of World Humanitarian Day 2021 is ‘The Human Race’: recognising the global race against time for climate action.

In the Asia-Pacific, disasters are increasing in frequency and intensity, and their impacts are closely linked to poverty and inequality.

For many in the region, climate change impacts are already a part of daily life.

Some communities experience water shortages and drought, while others contend with floods and landslides. Communities elsewhere may experience all of the above, depending on the time of the year.

As temperatures rise, cyclones and storms are predicted to increase in severity, while rising oceans, coastal erosion and health impacts will present new challenges.

Each time a climate-related disaster strikes, it threatens human life, health, shelters, livelihoods, food security, infrastructure, the environment and more, making sustainable development harder to reach. When communities are facing frequent or recurring disasters, it becomes even more difficult to get ahead. Inequality deepens, while poverty can become more entrenched. Vulnerable groups, such as people with disability, are particularly at risk.

The Australian Humanitarian Partnership responds to disasters when they occur, leveraging Australian Government resources to support NGOs to assist those in need, and to alleviate human suffering.

But just as important as disaster response is preparedness: by supporting communities, governments and civil society to build resilience, and to get ready before disaster strikes, many lives can be saved.

This is where the AHP’s Disaster READY program comes in. Across Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, Solomon Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu, the program works to strengthen disaster preparedness and management, and to ensure vulnerable groups such as women and people with disabilities are included in planning and response. The program is supported by the Australian Government.

Disaster READY partners are engaging in a wide range of preparedness activities across the region.

Keep scrolling to see some examples.

In Timor-Leste, with the support of CAN DO (Church Agencies Network Disaster Operations) and Caritas, more than 70 local communities have developed Action Plans to plant trees along riverbanks and to build retaining walls. These actions reduce inundation and erosion from seasonal flooding, protecting homes and gardens.

(Photo: Chief Afonso Doutel Sarmento leads planting of bamboo along the riverbank in his village of Baria Laran.)

In Vanuatu, Community Disaster and Climate Change Committees (CDCCCs) are developing disaster and response plans for cyclones, earthquakes and tsunamis. A handbook released earlier this year with the support of Disaster READY and in conjunction with Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office empowers CDCCCs with deeper knowledge to support their preparedness.

In Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, schools and surrounding communities have been creating disaster maps through the ‘DRR Champions of Tomorrow’ program, marking out evacuation areas and hazards while considering the needs of vulnerable groups, such as women, children and people with disability.

One of the risk maps produced by Ambarina community in PNG.
Left: Primary school teachers working on preparing a community disaster risk map in Madang, PNG. Right: School children in Solomon Islands practicing an evacuation drill as part of their disaster preparedness activities.

In Fiji, Disaster READY has been supporting the involvement of civil society in disaster response by working with the Fiji Council of Social Services (FCOSS) as part of the localisation agenda. This work has been put in action during the response to the country's 2021 COVID-19 outbreak.

Across all countries, Disaster READY partners work closely with disabled person's organisations to ensure the needs and perspectives of people with disability are included in disaster responses, and preparedness.

Left: Paulo and Abilio from Oxfam in Timor-Leste local partner, Ra’es Hadomi Timor Oan, carrying out assessments after the 2020 Dili floods. Centre: A Disaster READY Disability Inclusion Rights and Advocacy Consultation Workshop in Eastern Province, PNG, in July 2021. Right: Fiji Disabled People's Federation, in partnership with the Fiji Government, conducting risk communication and community engagement work in Rewa Province for people with disabilities as part of the COVID-19 response.

Other Disaster READY activities include...

Strengthening food security through climate-resilient agriculture.

(Photo: Elda learned techniques to preserve water sources, seed stocks and food for the region’s long dry stretches, and to more effectively plant crops, through Disaster READY climate-smart agriculture training.)

The development of community-designed early warning systems.

(Photo: In Viqueque, Timor-Leste, community member Merlinda Menezes explains how the river water level measurement system is used. The markers show residents whether it is safe to cross the river, or if villages downstream are at risk of flooding.)

Training of local-level government officials in disaster management and emergency response.

(Photo: District official Ruga Amo with his certificate from attending emergency response training in Central Province, Papua New Guinea.)

"Disasters are everyone's business"

Globally, those who have contributed least to climate change are being hit the hardest. Climate change is increasing the complexity, and the number, of humanitarian responses, amid the global challenge of COVID-19.

Despite the determined efforts of communities across the Pacific to better prepare for the impacts of climate change and to build resilience, an international effort is needed to address the climate challenge.

#TheHumanRace for climate action involves us all.

How you can support #TheHumanRace against climate change

Read more about the global World Humanitarian Day campaign for 2021, and how you can participate, here.

Learn more about the Disaster READY program, and the Australian Humanitarian Partnership, on our website.

Photos: Ernest Ta'asi (Oxfam Solomon Islands), UNDP Climate, NASA, CARE Timor-Leste, Plan International Australia, CAN DO, Vatina Devesi (World Vision Solomon Islands), Lapawe Dehaan (World Vision PNG), Allen Waitara (World Vision Solomon Islands), FCOSS, Reginald Ramos (Oxfam in Timor-Leste), CARE PNG, Jerome Wafia (ChildFund PNG), Iria Cecilia Soares (CARE Timor-Leste), CARE Vanuatu, Lisa Ritchie.

Video: Arlene Bax

Words and production: Ashlee Betteridge, AHP Support Unit