UWA Oceans Institute

Research Snapshot: Post-Disaster Recovery Processes in Fiji

Researcher on location in Fiji


As part of a UWA Research Collaboration Award (RCA), a group of UWA researchers visited Ba Province in Fiji late last year, travelling to communities historically affected by flooding. The research team included Ocean Institute Members and UWA School of Agriculture and Environment (SAgE) researchers Dr Natasha Pauli and Dr Bryan Boruff, Dr John Duncan of SAgE, and Ms Gracie Irvine, an Honours exchange student from University College London. Other members of the field team included researchers from the University of the South Pacific, University of Auckland, and University of Sydney.

The fieldtrip was part of a larger, three-year (2015-2018) project on climate change adaptation in post-disaster recovery processes, led by Professor Andreas Neef, from the School of Social Sciences, University of Auckland and funded by the Asia-Pacific Network for Global Change Research (www.climatechangeplus.net). By adopting an integrated and participatory action-research approach, the project aims to explore how rural communities living in flood-prone river basins in Cambodia and Fiji are responding to increasing incidents of floods under the influence of climate change and other risk factors, such as environmental degradation.

The research team visited four communities along the Ba River affected by Category 5 Cyclone Winston in 2016. Three of these communities have a substantial reliance on livelihood activities in coastal and/or estuarine environments. The three villages had all been affected by flooding and particularly the very severe flood of 2012. The community closest to the coast is highly reliant on fishing for income with limited access to agricultural land. The intermediate village has access to a diverse range of terrestrial and marine resources and commercial activity spaces, with a variety of sources of income and livelihoods. The community farthest from the coast is a resettlement built after the villagers’ homes were destroyed in the floods of 2012.

In each community, researchers sat with members of the community (women, men, youth and some mixed groups) and had a discussion around their livelihoods and the effects of natural hazards such as cyclones, floods and droughts on these activities. The discussions were facilitated with the use of large satellite images on which participants could annotate and map areas of their lands and coastal waters that were important to them. Ocean Institute Member and UWA School of Agriculture and Environment researcher Dr Natasha Pauli said:

“Through the process of participatory mapping, the research participants shared their spatial representation of areas around each community that were important to different groups within the community, as well as some important commentary about livelihoods, vulnerability, resilience and the impacts of natural hazards and other stressors on the communities”.

Integrating both scientific and local knowledge, the multidisciplinary research team will use these discussions to help develop integrated maps of risks and vulnerabilities. Local knowledge is important for identifying fine-scale changes in land use and flood hazards, demographic patterns, the aftermath of floods and desired future development paths. Scientific knowledge can aid in understanding biophysical risks of flooding related to climate, hydrology and geomorphology.

The outcome of the climate-focused project will help policy makers and development agencies better understand the importance of local institutional knowledge and provide scientifically based information concerning climate impacts to help local communities further build resilience in the face of climate change.

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