Disaster response and climate change in the Pacific

Disasters, and therefore disaster response, in the Pacific are expected to be affectedby climate change. This research addressed this issue, and focused on the immediatehumanitarian needs following a disaster, drawing upon adaptive capacity as a conceptto assess the resilience of individual organisations and the robustness of the broadersystem of disaster response. Four case study countries (Fiji, Cook Islands, Vanuatuand Samoa) were chosen for deeper investigation of the range of issues present in thePacific. The research process was guided by a Project Reference Group, whichincluded key stakeholders from relevant organisations involved in Pacific disasterresponse to guide major decisions of the research process and to influence itsprogression. Given the complexity of issues involved, including the contested definitions of adaptivecapacity, the research team developed a conceptual framework to underpin theresearch. This framework drew upon concepts from a range of relevant disciplinesincluding Earth System Governance, climate change adaptation, health resources,resilience in institutions and practice theory. Objective and subjective determinants ofadaptive capacity were used to assess the ‘disaster response system’, comprised ofactors and agents from government and non-government sectors, and the governancestructures, policies, plans and formal and informal networks that support them. Results revealed the most important determinant of adaptive capacity in the Pacific tobe communications and relationships, with both informal and formal mechanisms foundto be essential. Capacity (including human, financial and technical); leadership,management and governance structures; and risk perceptions were also highlyimportant determinants of adaptive capacity. The research also found that in smallPacific island bureaucracies, responsibility and capacity often rests with individualsrather than organisations. Leadership, trust, informal networks and relationships werefound to have a strong influence on the adaptive capacity of organisations and thebroader disaster response system. A common finding across all four case study countries affecting adaptive capacity wasthe limited human resources for health and disaster response more generally, both intimes of disaster response and in day-to-day operations. Another common finding wasthe gap in psychosocial support after a disaster. Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH)as an immediate post-disaster humanitarian need was relatively well establishedamongst responding organisations (although long term WASH issues were notresolved), while other humanitarian needs (health care, and food and nutrition) hadvarying stages of capacity – often limited by human, financial and technical resources.Adaptive capacity was therefore constrained by current gaps which need addressingalongside a future focus where risk is changing.  

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