As small island developing states, Pacific developing member countries (DMCs) are vulnerable to economic shocks, natural hazards and climate change, which pose a significant challenge to sustainable development and progress towards achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Pacific DMCs are highly exposed to the adverse effects of climate change and natural hazards including floods, droughts, tropical cyclones, earthquakes, and tsunamis, and have a low capacity to manage the resulting risks. Climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, and introduce new hazards such as sea-level rise and temperature changes. In early 2005, the Cook Islands faced five cyclones within 5 weeks - four of which were Category 5. The 2009 tsunami that hit Samoa caused high human losses and extensive damage to the country's infrastructure. The estimated cost of recovery was estimated at 22% of Samoa's GDP over a 3-4 year period. In April 2012, Fiji was affected by severe flooding, resulting in damages equivalent to around 1.5% of the country's GDP.
At the same time, poorly planned development activities are increasing the exposure of Pacific DMCs to natural hazard and climate change-related events. The large concentration of people, infrastructure, enterprises, and public institutions within cities makes urban areas more vulnerable to natural disasters and climate change compared with rural areas. Urban centers in the region are also predominantly situated in hazard-prone locations such as in low-lying coastal areas that are exposed to flooding, sea-level rise, and storm surge. Pacific DMCs are rapidly urbanizing, and over half the population of Cook Islands, Fiji, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, and Tuvalu are now concentrated in urban areas. As the region's urban centers expand, there is growing unplanned encroachment into higher risk areas such as exposed shorelines or floodplains.
As part of the Pacific Catastrophic Risk and Financing Initiative (PCRAFI), which was launched in 2007, ADB has been working with the World Bank and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community's Applied Geoscience and Technology Division (SPC/SOPAC). PCRAFI aims to provide Pacific DMCs with disaster risk modeling and assessment tools for enhanced disaster risk management, and financial solutions to increase their financial resilience to natural disasters and climate change.
ADB's contribution to the development of the regional catastrophe insurance scheme included identifying and recording country-specific geographic information system (GIS) datasets of buildings (residential, commercial, and industrial), major infrastructure (such as roads, bridges, airports, and electricity), major crops, and population. About 80,000 buildings and major infrastructure were physically inspected. In addition, about 3 million buildings and other assets, mostly in rural areas, were inferred from satellite imagery. PCRAFI also developed the region's most comprehensive regional historical hazard catalogue (115,000 earthquake and 2,500 tropical cyclone events) and historical loss database for major disasters, as well as country-specific hazard models that simulate earthquakes and tropical cyclones. The partnership's outputs also include risk maps showing the geographic distribution of potential losses for each Pacific DMC as well as other visualization products of the risk assessments. This information is stored in the Pacific Risk Information System (PacRIS) housed at SPC/SOPAC and can be accessed through an open-source web-based platform.
Progress in mainstreaming climate and disaster considerations into urban and sector development planning, which is critical for safeguarding social and economic development gains in the region, has been constrained by a lack of climate and hazard exposure information. As a result, there has been a tendency in Pacific DMCs to respond to the symptoms of natural disaster events through relief and reconstruction efforts, rather than dealing with the root causes, through better development planning. PacRIS contains information on the probability of hazard events occurring in a particular location, the value and ownership of assets threatened by natural disasters and climate change, as well as information about the likely impacts of such events, which is critical for disaster and climate resilient development planning.
Pacific DMC officials also have limited capacity to analyze natural hazard and climate change information and apply it to development planning. Awareness and capacity building activities are therefore needed to enable Pacific DMCs and development partners to use this data to develop climate and disaster resilient policies, plans, programs, and projects.