Vanuatu is considered to be one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to natural hazards. Comprised of over 80 islands, the country is located on the earthquake-prone “ring of fire” and sits at the center of the Pacific cyclone belt. These hazards result in a high frequency of volcanic eruptions, cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, storm surges, coastal flooding, and landslides. In addition, the country is already experiencing the impacts of climate change. Sea level rise and the increased intensity of extreme events have led to changes in agricultural productivity and water availability.
Vanuatu is estimated to incur an average of $48 million per year in losses due to earthquakes and tropical cyclones, a figure that is equivalent to 6.6 percent of its GDP. In March 2015, Tropical Cyclone Pam struck Vanuatu and caused damage, loss, and needs estimating $450 million, approximately 64 percent of the country’s GDP.
Building resilience to natural hazards and climate change is among Vanuatu’s most important development challenges. In light of the country’s high risk to natural hazards, the government has become increasingly proactive. Supported by the World Bank, Vanuatu developed a Disaster Risk Reduction and Disaster Management National Action Plan (2006-2016). Additionally, Vanuatu is the first Pacific Island country to have adopted both a National Adaptation Program of Action (2007) and National Action Plan for Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction (2015). In 2016, the Government released a Cyclone support Plan 2016-2017, which details the prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery arrangements in the event of a cyclone in the country. Further, in 2017, the Government developed a Community Preparedness Package to strengthen the preparedness and collaboration between national and international actors in disaster response. Despite this enabling environment, the country faces a number of challenges. Institutional capacity is weak. Human resources remain limited. Access to risk information is lacking. All this hinders the prioritization and design of risk-based disaster risk management (DRM) investments.
To further advance the DRM agenda, national priorities include:
- Developing a multi-hazard early warning system;
- Advancing climate resilience;
- Improving DRM governance and operational effectiveness; and,
- Giving more consideration to the development, implementation, and enforcement of a national building code.
Since 2008, GFDRR has supported the advancement of DRM in Vanuatu and focused on identifying risks, strengthening financial resilience, and building back better after a disaster.
GFDRR is supporting efforts to help increase climate resilience in Vanuatu. Building on successful pilots tested by the government, GFDRR and partners launched a resilience program in 2013 that focused on strengthening water and food security in rural communities while promoting risk-sensitive urban planning. In addition, support has been provided to improve early warnings, increase community resilience, and mainstream risk reduction in public sector investments.
With GFDRR’s support, Vanuatu has taken part in a pooled catastrophe risk insurance pilot program under PCRAFI since 2013. Following the devastation of Tropical Cyclone Pam in 2015, Vanuatu received a $1.9 million cash injection from the pilot program within 10 days of the disaster. Funds were immediately available for post-disaster needs.
Following Cyclone Pam, GFDRR supported a post-disaster needs assessment (PDNA) that helped the country identify damage, loss, and recovery needs. This included identifying financial needs, reviewing existing DRM capacity, and proposing a strategy to reduce disaster risk and increase the resilience of recovery. The PNDA helped mobilize partner financing, including $70 million from the World Bank for longer-term reconstruction efforts.
A GFDRR-funded grant has looked to increase resilience to climate variability and natural hazards. Activities aim to strengthen food and water security and improve livelihoods.
GFDRR is also helping Vanuatu participate in a regional Pacific Resilience Program (PREP), supported by the World Bank and GFDRR. The program will strengthen disaster resilience, early warning and preparedness, and improve the post-disaster response capacity of participating Pacific Island countries.
GFDRR anticipates continued demand to strengthen disaster and climate resilience in the following areas:
- Exploring additional financial protection strategies;
- Supporting resilient investments, including opportunities for power utilities to enhance their ability to incorporate and manage renewable energy technologies and long-term disaster planning;
- Improving the design of future community resilience investments;
- Integrating risk considerations into existing and planned education sector investments; and,
- Strengthening early warning and preparedness.