Reducing disaster risk in the Pacific

A partnership between the Pacific Community (SPC) and the Australian Water Partnership (AWP) is working towards a climate-resilient Pacific by increasing surface water hydrology capacity with a focus on flash flood early warning systems.

The Pacific is home to some of the most vulnerable nations in the world and is frequently impacted by hydro meteorological disasters.

“Flooding in general is a very big concern for Solomon Islands, from my personal view, it looks like flooding is the common frequent disaster”, said David Hiriasia, Director, Solomon Islands Meteorological Services.

To respond to this issue, AWP and SPC initiated a partnership in September 2021 that is focusing on supporting the growth of surface water hydrology capacity in the Pacific. This builds on previous and current activities around early warning systems and will help SPC build internal capacity and re-establish connections with national hydrology institutions.

Alluvium Senior Hydrologist Jacqui Reid, seconded to SPC, is leading processes to improve hydrological capacity and enhanced performance of flood early warning systems. Jacqui is working in collaboration with BMT Group and Gender Equality, Disability and Social Inclusion (GEDSI) expert Dr Jan Edwards. GEDSI considerations such as the involvement of SPC’s Human Rights and Social Development division, have enriched the perspective and project approach.

Stream gauging undertaken by the Fiji Meteorological Service Hydrology Team. Image: Alluvium International

The project, specific to riverine flash flooding, focuses on high volcanic islands with short steep catchments which are vulnerable to flash flooding. The aim is to increase climate resilience guided by the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Engagement with relevant stakeholders has ramped up significantly since January 2022 as COVID-19 restrictions have lifted. This includes:

  • a multi-stakeholder field assessment with the Fiji Meteorological Service and Water Authority Fiji
  • 23 stakeholder engagement activities with national hydrology bodies and organisations working in flash flood early warning systems
  • an online regional workshop attended by 29 participants, including representatives from the National Hydrology Services of Samoa, Solomon Islands and Fiji
  • an internal SPC workshop with representatives across divisions.

The purpose of these stakeholder engagement activities has been to introduce the project, develop stakeholder rapport understand how the project can support existing efforts, and formulate a fit-for-purpose framework for Pacific early warning systems.

The field assessment with Fiji Meteorological Service and Water Authority Fiji supported the continued learning and development of staff. This included developing an improved understanding of how to access and interpret relevant hydrological and catchment information, that in turn would support understanding of flash flood risk.

Stakeholder engagements have been well received to address the hydrology capacity challenge.

“Our region is at a critical stage to try and improve our early warning systems in order to provide our communities with as much information as possible to safeguard their livelihoods and also our national economies. So we are very happy, as part of the hydrological community, to have this opportunity and also to have another partner coming through such as the Australian Water Partnership … to assist our hydrological community”, said  Malaki Iakopo, Director Water Resources Division, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) of Samoa.

A key outcome of the project will continue to be a focus on improving hydrology capacity of local organisations to deal with flash flooding and improve their early warning systems.

Moving forwards, the project will assess and prioritise at-risk catchment to then pilot the framework to improve flash floods early warning systems in at least two catchments.

Feature image: EWS Field assessment team with members from Water Authority Fiji, SPC and Fiji Meteorological Service (from left to right: Jone Wainitasi (WAF), Jacqui Reid (SPC), Tom Stewart (SPC), Swastika Devi (FMS) and Sepesa Tikoinayau (FMS). Image by Alluvium International.
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