22 Nov 2013

Vanuatu gets state-of-the-art disaster warning facility

6:38 pm on 22 November 2013

The World Bank says a new disaster early warning centre in Vanuatu is just one of a number of measures being taken to help the Pacific cope better with the threat of natural disasters.

The state-of-the-art facility, just opened in Port Vila, comes after analysis showing Vanuatu is the Pacific country that suffers the greatest economic impact from natural disasters as the World Bank's Pacific country director, Franz Drees-Gross, explains.

FRANZ DREES-GROSS: If you take a global view of this, of the 20 countries that are most vulnerable to natural disasters worldwide, eight are in the Pacific. And among those eight Vanuatu is the single most disaster-prone country in the region, especially as the average annual cost of ecological disasters in terms of ecological economies is just under 7% annual loss. So while those natural disasters are unavoidable, their consequences aren't. And I think what we see with this Vanuatu National Early Warning Centre is one piece of a response system that's supposed to make the consequences of those disasters less from Vanuatu and for the region. So what it's going to house is meteorological and geohazard scientists that will collect and analyse data on volcanic eruptions, seismic activity, extreme weather events, tsunamis and other such threats, and then other parts of the same project will basically get that information out through TV, radio, sirens, SMS's to people who are most at risk in those areas. We'll also be adding some other pieces of the puzzle, such as tsunami stations, seismic monitoring stations to this to basically disseminate the information that we're collecting through the early warning centre.

DON WISEMAN: It's a huge operation, isn't it?

FDG: It is quite an undertaking. It's fairly cutting-edge technology. It's supposed to be staffed 24-7. So I think it's quite an ambitious undertaking, but I think nowhere more relevant to start something like that than Vanuatu, given its high levels of disaster exposure.

DW: And the sort of thing that needs a lot of highly skilled people. Are you going to be bringing in people or training ni-Vanuatu to run it?

FDG: I think it'll be a mix of local and international scientists that will staff it. As I said, geohazards, meteorological risks, et cetera. But it is a sophisticated facility.

DW: As you say, eight of the most threatened places around the world are in the Pacific so, as well as Vanuatu, are you looking at this sort of facility in other parts of the region?

FDG: We're looking at taking a very wide view of what it means to respond to disaster risk, especially those disaster risks that are likely to become more acute with climate change. So if you look at the array of risks that countries face, obviously earthquakes and tsunamis, volcanic eruptions don't have a climate change risk. But others, certainly, like cyclones do have a climate change risk. Flooding and mud slides do have climate-change angles. So in different countries we're putting together a package of early warning systems like this early warning centre that we're looking at in Vanuatu, but then also trying to build the resilience of communities, trying to increase the resilience of communities, for example introducing in many Melanesian countries more heat and climate resistance to root crops. In other countries we're proofing onshore infrastructure, so moving roads away from coastal areas, suppressing culverts, improving drainage systems around roads. In places like Kiribati we're doing coastal defence so we'll have structures that absorb wave power offshore, planting mangroves near shore to buffer some of the wave action, and then onshore some kind of coastal protection structure. So it's a package of these measures to basically increase resilience and increase disaster preparedness.