In February of 2016, the strongest and costliest cyclone in the history of the South Pacific swept across Queensland, Tonga, Vanuatu, Niue, and Fiji. Tropical Cyclone Winston illustrated the widespread damage an extreme climate event can inflict upon island nations and its communities.
For Tokou village, on the Fijian island of Ovalau, the cyclone resulted in the loss of many local residences and the destruction of the Loreto Catholic School.
One school building, rushed by storm surges of up to seven meters high, floated off its foundations before coming to rest across the schoolyard. That same building began to serve as a temporary schoolhouse and meeting space for the community at its unanticipated new location.
The entire Tokou village, including the site of Loreto school, had been previously marked by the Fijian government for relocation. But in the aftermath of Cyclone Winston the Fijian government began reconstruction in the exact location Loreto was destroyed: adjacent to a steep hillside, flanked by road, river and ocean.
Disasters such as cyclones can reveal poorly informed and supported foundational frameworks—whether in architecture or in the disaster relief system.
In the aftermath of Cyclone Winston, international support channelled through the Fijian government provided funding for temporary classroom tent structures. These classroom tents baked in the tropical heat and became soaked from the ground up in the rain.
Pacific Peoples’ Partnership became involved with rebuilding a more resilient Loreto School in this shifting landscape. We had pinpointed Loreto School as a strong candidate for support through consultations with hereditary Fijian leaders living in Victoria, BC. This oversight proved to be critical, as a strong understanding of the community was needed to navigate multiple sources of funding rushing in to support insufficient temporary infrastructure in the community.
Together with a variety of donors—including the local Pacific Islander community of the Victoria area—Pacific Peoples’ Partnership raised $15,000 for rebuilding Loreto Catholic School. The funding was channelled through the Pacific Resilience Fund, a flexible funding mechanism designed to promote medium term climate resiliency programming in communities as a supplement to the short term disaster relief system.
In 2017, Executive Director April Ingham travelled to Tokou Village to determine the full scope of Loreto School’s needs. Through consultations with elders, teachers and the broader community, April determined that PPP funding would be most useful to support the ongoing repairs, materials and labour needed to repair the Headteacher’s house. The school’s structural issues were being addressed by the Fijian government, and the Headteacher’s house proved to be a central meeting and community space for the school and village. Any additional funds would support the associated costs of a seawall to protect the school, incorporating recommendations of restoring coastal mangroves to protect against storm surge.
The Pacific Islands region is among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Geographic isolation, small size, and narrow resource base—coupled with the increasing magnitude and impact of existing natural hazards—threaten the lives and livelihoods of Pacific Island countries and territories.
The clear overlap between risks related to climate change and disaster management inspired the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific: An Integrated Approach to Address Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management (FRDP). The FRDP provides guidance and critical insights for community stakeholders, from grassroots to government initiatives, to private interest investment. The shift from a vulnerability based framework to a resiliency based framework is an important recognition of the leadership and strength of Island communities.
Through the efforts of local leaders and collaboration between community stakeholders, Pacific Islanders have the opportunity to develop more resilient communities and a stronger climate and disaster response framework. Extreme weather events will only continue to increase in frequency and severity. We need not wait for the next disaster to begin addressing the underlying causes of vulnerability, predominantly poverty, resource scarcity, ecological degradation, and land loss.
Please donate today to grow our Pacific Resilience Fund for communities in the South Pacific.