not if, but when warns bank

Cyclone Meena caused extensive damage to the nz$1.5 million wharft extension at Avatiu wharf - now the world bank says more needs to be done to minimise cyclone damage.


Development in the coastal zones of the Cook Islands is still taking place without enough risk management for natural hazards, says the World Bank.

Pilot projects for risk management need to be scaled up to national levels, says the bank in a new report.

“Not if, but when” is the warning given in the policy note title about “adapting to natural hazards.”

Policy note authors signal a major change away from disaster relief towards aid funding for risk management.

“The solution lies largely with donors,” reads a heading.

Pacific Island governments – and aid donors – need to do more to channel funding towards preparing for disasters.

The policy note comes just two days after the Cook Islands government signed a $3.5 million contract with China for a new police headquarters.

Located midtown, the new headquarters feature a broad flat front of a type coastal experts have previously warned are highly vulnerable to damage from cyclones.

As well, the project ignores decades of calls for government to fund major cyclone protection along the waterfront.

Now the World Bank says governments need to recognise that climate change means more intense and frequent cyclone events.

Small amounts of spending can provide major savings.

Spending as little as US$10,000 on deepening the stream at Avatiu to divert sea surge run off could save as much as US$2.81 million damage to the wharf area, states the bank.

These figures come from a pilot project run in the Cook Islands and other island nations.

“The pilot projects demonstrated that climate-related risks have increased in recent times and that retrofitting is considerably more costly than proactive RMNH.”

Disaster preparation programmes in the past have failed to achieve concrete steps in some countries for a number of reasons.

Giving examples in Federated States of Micronesia and the Cook Islands, the report states that “Earlier regional projects (such as PICCAP) were also restrained by scale and timing and lacked the resources and political support to leverage broader national implementation.”

In the report, World Bank consultants praise Samoa, Tonga and Kiribati for taking small but effective steps to minimise damage from cyclones and other natural hazards.

They note that 1987’s Cyclone Sally had an average wave height of 8.1 metres and caused damage equal to 66 per cent of Gross Domestic Product.

Last year’s cyclones had an average wave height 50 per cent higher at 12 metres.

“Only a fortunate last minute alteration in the path of these four cyclones prevented more widespread damage,” reads the policy note.

World Bank consultants admit that donors including themselves must accept some of the blame for an emphasis on disaster relief rather than what it describes as RMNH, risk management for natural hazards.

“Donors bear a large responsibility for providing the right incentives for preventive action, not by withdrawing humanitarian funding after disasters but by requiring compliance with RMNH standards under their projects and making assistance conditional upon adoption of sound risk reduction behaviour.

“Yet this culture change has often proven more difficult amongst donor agencies than within national governments.

“During 2001–04, for example, the World Bank authorized grants for major national disasters but required credits for RMNH programs (this practice has subsequently been abandoned).”

Government has budgeted $7.9 million in loans from the Asian Development Bank for “cyclone recovery.”

No mention is made of risk management for future natural hazards.

World bank consultants note the risks are high and getting higher.

“Ten of the 15 most extreme events reported over the past half a century occurred in the last 15 years.”

“Between 1950 and 2004, extreme natural disasters, such as cyclones, droughts and tsunamis, accounted for 65 percent of the total economic impact from disasters on the region’s economies.”

“Since 1950, natural disasters have directly affected more than 3.4 million people and led to more than 1,700 reported deaths in the region (outside of Papua New Guinea).

“In the 1990s alone, reported natural disasters cost the Pacific Islands region US$2.8 billion in real 2004 value.”

Full report

World Bank calls for action to protect Pacific from cyclones

World Bank Urges Climate Change Planning By Pacific Islands

Action needed to protect Pacific from climate change: World Bank

Not If, But When: Adapting to Natural Hazards in the Pacific Islands Region