Three weeks ago, the largest cyclone ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere hit Fiji. At the time that the cyclone hit, the water around Fiji was around 1.5°C higher than usual, and consequently was experiencing high amounts of coral bleaching (see previous blog). Unusually high water temperatures are associated to rapid intensification of cyclones, so unfortunately the storm maintained its strength as it crossed the Fiji islands. At the point of landfall, Cyclone Winston had become a category 5 cyclone.
The cyclone has caused huge destruction across many areas in Fiji, with many homes being destroyed or severely damaged. Immediately after the storm, tens of thousands of people (bear in mind Fiji has a population of less than a million) were in evacuation centers across the country, and still three weeks later over 10,000 people remain there.
One of the villages where we have been working was spared the force of the cyclone, one lost four houses and the primary school was severely damaged, and the villages on the island of Ovalau have been seriously hit, losing many houses but no people were hurt. Another of REPICORE’s study sites at Koro Island, was devastated by cyclone, suffering not only from the cyclone but also from a cyclone-induced tidal wave.
For all of those at our institute, there is a donation box in office 2212 that will be brought out by Akuila Cakacaka when he returns to Fiji in a couple of weeks. Otherwise, for anyone keen on donating to the recovery efforts, there are many NGOs and humanitarian organisations doing great work out here to help the people who have lost homes and possessions, and to make sure they have food and water, for example the Red Cross http://www.redcross.com.fj/.
Storm intensities are predicted to increase as a consequence of climate change, and Pacific Islands are particularly vulnerable, so understanding the effects and learning from this experience is vital for Fiji. To understand long-term resilience of communities we must understand their vulnerability to the effects of climate change on local crop production and on coral reefs, which have both been affected by the cyclone and the unusually high recent temperatures.