August 2012: Natural Disaster Preparedness in the Pacific
On July 13, 2012, Kyushu, a southern island in Japan, was hit with an entire year’s amount of rain in just three days as a result of a passing typhoon. The storm caused devastating floods and mudslides, forcing more than one-quarter of a million people to flee the region. In addition to the impact on public and private property, the floods and mudslides compromised the health of regional ecosystems by bringing land-based pollution and debris to the ocean. Coming in the wake of the country’s efforts to recover from the tsunami that hit northeast Japan in March 2011, the resulting disaster underscores the need for proactive strategies to manage, avoid, and prepare for impacts on shorelines, coastal infrastructure, and livelihoods. CLICK HERE to watch BBC’s footage of the typhoon and recovery efforts underway.
This month, the Pacific Ocean Library blog focuses on natural disaster preparedness in the Pacific. What effects does climate change have on damage to human communities and the ocean from natural disasters? What strategies can be used to better prepare for natural disasters and hazards, and how can we reduce their impacts?
Disaster Risks and Reduction Strategies
Natural hazards (such as earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, hurricanes and cyclones) by themselves do not cause disasters; it is when vulnerable populations or communities are hit with a hazard event that results in a disaster. Climate change is leading to increased storm intensity and surges on coastal shorelines. In addition, sea level is rising as a result of both thermal expansion (as the ocean warms, it expands) and ice sheet melt and when coupled with stronger storms, results in taller waves that can reach farther inland. The cumulative impacts of higher seas, stronger storms, and increased coastal populations put low-lying areas at greater risk to increased erosion, shoreline recession, inundation and flooding.
There is a need to establish methods to better prepare for the impacts of these hazards to coastal areas within the Pacific. Natural disaster risks as well as preparedness techniques differ among urban and rural waterfronts, small islands, and developed and developing states. These different environments and social, political, and economic contexts will require a suite of methods, tools and processes for risk reduction and response planning. For example, developing countries often lack basic capacity to avoid or plan for risks using equipment, skilled planners, and vital response resources such as advanced early warning systems. This challenge was demonstrated in 2004 when a tsunami hit Thailand and surrounding areas, killing more than 10,000 people. Had an early warning system been in place, such as the Tsunami Risk Evaluation through seismic Moment of a Real-time System (TREMORS), an automated system that computes an earthquake’s seismic moment and issues an early warning 10 minutes (or approximately 400km) before a tsunami reaches the shore, it could have provided a warning with enough advanced notice to help save lives.
“Disaster risk reduction” is the concept and practice of reducing disaster risks through systematic efforts to analyze and reduce the causal factors of disasters. It aims to build resiliency among cities, and prevent or limit the negative impacts from natural hazards and disasters. Through 2015, disaster risk reduction strategies at the state, regional, and international level are guided through the United Nation’s Hyogo Framework for Action (HFA). Drafted and adopted by 168 Member States in 2005, HFA describes and details the work that is required from the various sectors and actors to reduce disaster losses. This collaborative effort brought together the many partners needed to reduce disaster risk – governments, international agencies, disaster experts and several others – to produce a common system of coordination. This document has become a key point of reference for countries within the Pacific by establishing five key priorities to guide efforts and act as a blueprint for disaster risk reduction strategies.
Risk reduction and preparedness strategies include not only the use of technological advances for the installation of effective early warning systems, such as satellite monitoring and weather buoys, but also the restoration of coastal ecosystems such as mangroves and dune systems for shoreline protection. In addition, preparedness strategies aim at increasing public awareness about how to prepare for, react and adapt to natural hazards through education and outreach, conferences and workshops. For example, in Guam, American Samoa, and the United States, there is a community-based program called TsunamiReady which requires communities to have redundant warning and alerting communications, tsunami response plans, tsunami hazard and evacuation maps and signage, and active community and school education programs. Furthermore, the Cook Islands passed a law stating that all new houses should be built inland and uphill away from the coast, in part due to the results of recent geological studies of past tsunamis and their impacts on the island. Effective strategies, regulatory guidance, and comprehensive outreach methods are essential components of an effective and successful plan for preparing for natural hazards and their impacts.
Want to learn about more about strategies to help manage natural hazards? Check out NOAA's Hazards and Climate Adaptation and The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction to learn more about how to reduce natural hazards and PreventionWeb, an interactive tool for exchanging information on hazard management strategies to facilitate collaboration.
Natural Disaster Preparedness in the Pacific Research
This month we highlight natural disaster preparedness in the Pacific in three articles that provide insight into the threats of increasing storm surges on low-lying coastal zones, and look into possible solutions in management plans and early warning systems. Click on the title links below to view the abstracts in the library, and while you are there, have a look around!
This article explores the implications for 31 developing countries and 393 of their cyclone-vulnerable coastal cities with populations greater than 100,000. Combining the most recent scientific and demographic information, it estimates the future impact of climate change on storm surges that will strike coastal populations, economies and ecosystems.
This report examines Indonesia’s success in improving disaster risk reduction strategies by reviewing the country’s progress in implementing the Hyogo Framework for Action Priorities. This includes an analysis of the drivers, challenges and emerging issues in building resilience to natural hazards.
This article determines how early warning systems can be used to improve livelihood security and identifies new challenges for early warning systems in the context of climate change and deals with the potential constraints of integration. In addition, it looks to improve the consideration of early warning in migration and adaptation strategies.
Explore the Library!
Did you know that the Pacific Ocean Library now contains more than 6,500 articles, government publications and reports from the Pacific region that focus on the greatest threats, environmental and socioeconomic impacts, and potential solutions for the region? The library is a great resource for anyone involved in coastal and ocean conservation and management. Each month, we select focal topics of importance to practitioners, managers, academics, decision makers and stakeholders within Pacific Ocean communities and add interesting reports, resources and tools to help provide you with a robust one-stop information source. This month, we added 42 new articles related to natural disaster preparedness in the Pacific with a focus on Japan, Indonesia, China, and the Pacific Islands.
Text Box Sources: