Joint situational analysis
The Pacific Islands covered in this plan are spread across a vast and diverse region which represents more than 15 per cent of the earth’s surface. Largely made up of small island and archipelago states, these island countries face a range of external shocks which affect the lives and livelihoods of their populations. Their geographic locations make them vulnerable to disasters and environmental degradation, and the global climate crisis exacerbates these vulnerabilities. The economies of these countries face challenges from their remoteness, small populations and shrinking resources. These challenges also have impacts on their systems of governance, compounding the challenges of coping with external shocks. Communicable and non-communicable diseases and weak health systems mean that, in many parts of the Pacific, communities face water insecurity, food insecurity and reduced life expectancy. Access to quality education is also a challenge, with remote communities particularly affected by a poverty of opportunity. Where development gains can be made, the high prevalence of gender-based violence and social norms that perpetuate inequality threaten to hold back progress.
While these Pacific states face a range of challenges, their rich cultural, social and ecological connections underpin the importance of their ocean homelands and resources. Their values-based traditions and social structures are solid foundations for building community-based resilience through stewardship and collaboration. Pacific communities and institutions have strong, complex traditions based on reciprocity and volunteerism, and operate within the prevailing norms of their broader context. For these reasons, they face challenges with governance, inclusion, financial sustainability and the ever-present need to respond to crises and disasters in lengthening cycles.
The last year has again proven that the Pacific is one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world, facing tropical cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, health crises and drought. The World Risk Index 2020 ranks Vanuatu as the most at-risk country globally.
Pacific Island countries are extremely vulnerable to climate change, which is causing the loss of coastal infrastructure and land, extreme rainfall events, intense tropical cyclones in the South Pacific, rising sea levels and ocean acidification. Communities across the region are also experiencing more intense periods of drought, leading to problems such as failed subsistence crops, damage to coastal fisheries, the loss of coral reefs and mangroves, and the spread of disease.
Higher temperatures, shifts in rainfall patterns and the changing frequency of extreme events mean climate change affects peoples’ lives and livelihoods. So far this year in 2022, the Cook Islands, Kiribati, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu have been on high alert for excessively dry conditions due to La Niña, and Tuvalu has implemented its first use of the Disaster Response Emergency Fund (DREF) for a potentially worsening drought. Meanwhile, Fiji and Vanuatu have been on alert for excessively wet conditions. Fiji has experienced flooding in areas that were previously not prone to it, while Vanuatu experienced extreme weather and minor flooding from January to March. Communities are increasingly being affected by multiple hazards, and this challenging weather makes it more difficult to access communities and implement programmes.
The impacts of climate change are also causing the progressive, long-term degradation of the natural environment and critical ecosystems such as coral reefs. This affects the social and economic systems that Pacific Island communities depend on for subsistence and livelihoods. As a result, poverty is increasing and health issues are worsening due to poor diet, lack of food and lack of income. COVID-19 restrictions are compounding this further. As of May 2022, 43 per cent of communities in Fiji were using stress coping strategies, 16 per cent were using crisis coping strategies, and five per cent were using emergency strategies. This pattern is likely to continue to get worse.
The Pacific Islands’ vulnerability has been compounded over the last 18 months by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic was declared in March 2020, many of these nations implemented border closures and developed strict quarantine rules for returning residents, ensuring that cases of COVID-19 were contained at their borders. This has kept some Pacific Island countries shielded from the primary health effects of the pandemic; however, the threat of COVID-19 persists. These countries often have both fragile health care systems and a high prevalence of non-communicable diseases, so there is still a critical need to protect the population through a comprehensive COVID-19 vaccination programme. Continued awareness raising around public health interventions that can reduce the spread of the virus is also important.
While most Pacific nations are currently free from community transmission, the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 are a heavy burden for countries that depend heavily on tourism, remittances, imports and exports. Many households are struggling with reduced incomes, and some businesses are facing permanent closure. Governments have seen reduced tax revenue, which affects their funding for essential public services. Across the world, the impacts of COVID-19 are increasing poverty and inequality and, for the Pacific nations, they threaten to set back recent development by decades. A successful COVID-19 vaccination programme has played an important role in reopening borders and restarting parts of the economy.
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