Preparing communities for climate change

Climate change is a key driver of displacement for our Pacific neighbours.

Rising sea levels and increasingly frequent storms and extreme weather events are forcing people to flee their homes more than ever before. The World Bank predicts that 49 million people in East Asia and the Pacific will be forced to flee their homes due to climate impacts by 2050.

Act for Peace is working with local partners to go beyond providing emergency aid to help communities prepare for disasters and ensure they can respond and recover effectively.

Vanuatu is feeling the impacts of more frequent, major cyclones.

For a nation that predominantly relies on subsistence farming for crop production, the impact of a cyclone on food availability can be catastrophic.

According to Act for Peace International Programs Coordinator, Sarah Doyle, this increase in climate-related disasters is having a huge impact on the local community.

“In the past, you might get a category 5 cyclone once every 10 years, now they are at risk every year,” explains Sarah.

“It’s threatening the livelihoods of people because they haven’t experienced this many major disasters in the past.”

When Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu in 2015, the UN reported that 96% of food crops were destroyed. This major impact on food production sent food prices skyrocketing, which led to hunger and malnutrition. Twin tropical cyclones Judy and Kevin then hit in March 2023 causing widespread devastation to crops, major flooding, and damage to houses and infrastructure affecting 80% of the island nation’s population.

George Tabi is the Disaster Ready Program Manager with our partner organisation, Vanuatu Christian Council (VCC) and says the increase in climate-related disasters is even impacting people’s mental well-being.

“When a disaster hits a family and community it causes disorientation in the peoples’ minds…” says George.

“It can also demoralise the people from putting their efforts towards rebuilding because they are uncertain about the climate pattern.”

Andrew’s family home was destroyed in Cyclone Judy.

“The cyclone ripped the roofing off our homes, so I evacuated my family to the small cave nearby,” Andrew says.

Local emergency services took Andrew and his family to the evacuation centre run by VCC.

They lived in the evacuation centre for almost a month until their homes could be repaired to a standard safe enough to return to. VCC helped them return home by providing emergency roofing kits.

Here is Andrew (pictured centre) with his family under a makeshift tarpaulin shelter in the place where their homes once stood.

photo credit: Sarah Doyle/Act for Peace

Long term displacement solutions are key.

While the initial emergency response is necessary, Sarah explains that disaster preparedness and prevention are integral to ensure communities can respond and recover effectively.

“Communities have to be prepared to protect their livelihoods,” Sarah says.

“VCC train community disaster and climate change committees based on inclusive principles, to make sure that they’re addressing the needs of all the people in the community.”

“There is a women’s representative and a representative for people with disabilities. They are also tapping into the local resources within that community so that they can be sustainable in the long term and not have to depend on outside resources and support.”

“This is really critical in Vanuatu, because there’s 83 islands geographically dispersed. It’s difficult, logistically, for the government to provide services to all the islands.

“With training and support, communities are becoming resilient and can work with the resources and knowledge they have locally.”

According to George, disaster prevention and preparedness programs are key to increasing communities’ resilience.

“It helps encourage and provide foreknowledge of these threats before they may occur,” says George.

VCC has also upgraded 114 community facilities used as evacuation centres across three islands of Vanuatu, to ensure they are accessible, including installing ramps and gender segregated toilets.

Kal (pictured below) was evacuated to the VCC Evacuation Centre in Port Vila during the twin cyclones last year. He became displaced as his house was destroyed.

Kal lives with a physical disability and uses a wheelchair. He couldn’t return to his home, so he moved temporarily to another village.

“I was advised I couldn’t return home to my house because of its condition,” says Kal. “VCC provided some iron roofing for my house to build a new home for me…when it’s fully completed then I will move there.”

photo credits: VCC/Act for Peace

VCC also works with communities to build their resilience to disasters so their food and income sources can sustain major weather events like cyclones.

“They provide seedlings, cuttings and seeds so that communities can reestablish their gardens after a cyclone or disaster,” says Sarah.

“They focus on replanting and seeds for vegetables and fast-growing crops that they didn’t previously have access to. That’s critical to supporting increased food security and diversity to meet their nutritional needs.”

With climate-related disasters increasing, Act for Peace is committed to backing local organisations and working alongside communities to shape displacement solutions together.

By joining forces we can help build positive change – driven by the community, for the community.

You can add your voice calling on our leaders to help build a safer world for all!

Disaster READY is supported by the Australian Government and implemented through the Australian Humanitarian Partnership.

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