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Flash Flood Guidance System for Fiji brings increased security to island communities CREWS Impact Feature, March 2020

Flash floods are among the world’s deadliest natural disasters with more than 5 000 lives lost annually, and result in significant social, economic and environmental impacts. Accounting for approximately 85% of the flooding cases, flash floods also have the highest mortality rate among different types of flooding including riverine and coastal flooding. They are caused by intense rainfall from slow moving thunderstorms and tropical cyclones, rainfall over hills and mountains, condition of the soil and surrounding environment, and sudden release of impounded water from natural dams.

They occur within a few hours of heavy rain with little or no warning, and have the power to change the course of rivers, bury houses in mud, and sweep away or destroy whatever is in their path – causing significant loss of life and livelihoods. They are the most common and most deadly form of flooding in Pacific Island countries.

Located in the South Pacific Ocean, Fiji has experienced an increase in the frequency and severity of flash floods in recent years. These are claiming the lives of many people, damaging properties and infrastructure, putting back decades of development, and disrupting businesses and livelihoods.

Fiji's landscape includes volcanic mountains up to 1,300 metres high, river systems, plateaus, lowlands, coastal plains, and coral shores. The country's geological characteristics make it prone to severe flash flooding that can cause significant damage to the agricultural sector as well as to housing and businesses.

18 272

square-kilometre surface area of Fiji spread across some 3,000,000 square kilometres in the South Pacific

906 000+

people make up the population of this Small Island Developing State

300

separate islands and more than 500 islets make up this island nation, of which some 100 islands are inhabited. The capital, Suva, is on the southeast coast of the largest island, Viti Levu; with most of the population living here and on the second-largest island, Vanua Levu.

IMPACTS OF TROPICAL CYCLONE WINSTON

Fiji is now being hit by stronger and more frequent storms, due to climate change.

In February 2016, Fiji was hit by Tropical Cyclone Winston, an extremely destructive Category 5 cyclone, and the strongest to ever hit this Pacific Islands nation. The significant damage it caused, as per the Government of Fiji, included:

306 KM/HOUR

wind gust peaks, while maximum average wind speeds reached 233km/hour – making Winston one of the most powerful cyclones ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere.

540 400

people, equivalent to 62 percent of the country’s total population, impacted by the storm.

44

confirmed fatalities.

80%

of the nation’s population lost power, including the entire island of Vanua Levu.

40 000

people required immediate assistance, while entire communities were destroyed.

30 369

houses, 495 schools and 88 health clinics and medical facilities were damaged or destroyed.

60%

of Fiji's population had their livelihoods compromised by the large-scale destruction of agricultural crops, on which they depend.

US$ 900 000 000

in total disaster effects, including US$ 600 million in damages and US$ 300 million in losses.

The devastation of Tropical Cyclone Winston in 2016, was followed by other severe weather events.

In February 2017, parts of the country's Nadi area were underwater as continual heavy rain created multiple flash flooding events.

In April of 2018, Tropical Cyclone Josie brought torrential weekend rains and flooding in the town of Ba on the island of Viti Levu, causing fatalities and significant property damage.

In December 2019, Tropical Cyclone Sarai battered the country with strong winds and gusts up to 150km/h and heavy rain cause loss of life and damage to property. More than 2,500 people had to be moved to 70 evacuation centres.

Flash Flood Guidance System for Fiji

Early warning systems and services play a critical role in helping communities react to flash flood threats. The Flash Flood Guidance System for Fiji (Fiji FFGS) has been developed with funding from the Climate Risk & Early Warning System (CREWS) initiative and Environment and Climate Change Canada, and is implemented by WMO and the Hydrological Research Center.

Launch in 2019, the Fiji FFGS supplements existing systems for monitoring and early warning for floods in the Fiji Islands. It is built on the Global Flash Flood Guidance System and provides the Fiji Meteorological Service’s weather experts with the capacity to generate and issue operational flash flood forecasts and warnings with improved lead-time and which are site specific.

“We are now fine tuning our tools to be able to forecast these floods, and as a result of this we hope to be able to keep our people safe and save our infrastructure, save the people in this country.” – Jone Usamate, Minister for National Disaster Management, Fiji

As an Implementing Partner of the Climate Risk & Early Warning Systems (CREWS) initiative, together with the World Bank / GFDRR and UNDRR, WMO has provided strategic and technical support towards the successful implementation of the Fiji FFGS.

This assistance includes:

  • Supporting the design, development, and implementation of the system
  • Training programmes
  • Collaboration between the Fiji Meteorological Service and disaster risk management organizations, and where appropriate, cooperation and inter-operability of the Fiji FFGS project with other regional projects
  • Facilitating the use of products and information generated in aggressively reducing exposure to disaster risk and improving disaster risk management in Fiji.

With the Fiji Flash Flood Guidance System now in place, the nation's nearly one million people have access to an effective early warning system that will support the preparation and response to severe flash floods – and significantly save lives and livelihoods.

Photos: Janis Rozenfelds, Gary Runn, UNWomen, World Bank/Vlad Sokhin, Government of Fiji, NASA, WMO, HRC.

This CREWS project is made possible through the generous support of the Government of Canada through direct CREWS funding to WMO.

CREWS Members:

CREWS Implementing Partners

CREWS partners with and/or contributes to:

© 2020 Climate Risk & Early Warning Systems (CREWS)