Men build sea walls in Tarawa, Kiribati. Photo by: World Bank / CC BY-NC-ND

CANBERRA — For small island developing states in the Pacific, climate change is already resulting in natural disasters that are growing in number and intensity. While some governments still debate the very existence of climate change, Pacific nations are dealing with it on a daily basis — building disaster resilience to save lives and ensure quick recovery.

New data collated by the Lowy Institute through the Pacific Aid Map provides insights into the donors supporting disaster resilience in the Pacific since 2011.

Australia, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is a key donor, with a total of 87 known projects supporting Pacific disaster resilience. Their largest commitment is the 32 million Australian dollar ($22.95 million) Pacific-Australia Climate Change Science and Adaptation Project, supported by Australia’s Department of the Environment and Energy.

A number of other donors are committed to helping the Pacific build resilience in the face of increasing disasters, exacerbated by climate change. Development banks, environmental funds, and diverse donor countries including the European Union, United Kingdom, Canada, China, Japan, and India are among the support network for Pacific nations.

Devex has analyzed key and emerging players with insights into their areas of focus.

Development banks: Resilience through infrastructure and financial systems

According to the Lowy data, the Asian Development Bank and World Bank are the key funders for resilience programs in the Pacific. Their focus is on resilience through stronger infrastructure, transport networks, and economies, to ensure an affected country can keep moving following a disaster.

A total of 11 projects from ADB, totaling $188 million, support resilience building — with Cook Island, Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu all recipients of this investment.

The single largest commitment is a $100 million project in Fiji — the Transport Infrastructure Investment Sector Project.

Co-financed by the World Bank, the project is in its infancy but aims to build resilience in a road network that is currently prone to disruption by heavy rainfall and flooding, often exacerbated by tropical cyclones. Rural maritime infrastructure, which after years of neglect is in poor condition, will also be part of the investment.

The Pacific Disaster Resilience Program is their second largest investment in building Pacific resilience, with $17 million in grants, loans, and technical assistance to support development in Samoa, Tonga, and Tuvalu.

For the World Bank, the Lowy data highlights 17 projects that are committing a $227 million investment in resilience building in Fiji, Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Island, Tonga, and Vanuatu — as well as initiatives supporting the region as a whole.

Its largest commitment will see $50 million for transport infrastructure in both Fiji and Vanuatu — with an aim of improving disaster and climate resilience of public sector assets.

But it is also committed to improving governance that will build resilient countries.

The Samoa Development Policy Operation has seen the World Bank commit $15 million to a range of resilience-building support projects, including public finance management reforms for improved management and transparency of public funds when there is increased expenditure to support disaster response.

And through the Climate Investment Funds, development banks are further financing disaster resilience projects in the Pacific. Through a total of seven projects, the fund is committing $87 million through a range of climate resilience programs in Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Samoa, and the Pacific region as a whole.

The largest of the fund’s initiative is a $25 million investment in PNG as part of the Building Resilience to Climate Change program, which aims to deliver transformational change in addressing the current and future threats from climate change and related hazards in the country.

UN: Resilience through humanitarian response and children’s programming

The United Nations is targeting disaster resilience in its humanitarian response programs and economic and social initiatives through the United Nations Development Programme and U.N. Children's Fund.

In total, Lowy has identified 43 programs in the Pacific region since 2011 — with only four of these programs supporting the region as a whole.

The largest individual commitment has been from UNDP to Samoa — $58 million for the Green Climate Fund Vaisigano River Catchment project, which aims to strengthen the catchment’s adaptive capacity and reduce exposure to extreme weather events for communities, infrastructure, and the built environment in the area.

In Tuvalu, $36 million is being invested into a similar program that is supporting coastal adaptation, while $12 million has been committed to supporting the economy-wide integration of climate change in Samoa.

Programs targeting children’s needs through UNICEF include a $1.5 million commitment to support education in emergencies that has seen Pacific Island countries strengthen the resiliency and capacity of their education systems to address disruptions during emergencies.

EU: Political and community resilience

Despite the distance between the Pacific and Europe, the EU is an important partner in building disaster resilience. According to the Lowy data, the EU has supported 19 projects related to disaster resilience since 2011 — a total investment of $80.8 million.

Their projects aim to target resilience in a variety of ways with gender, environment, and trade among the policy objectives for financial support.

Their largest commitment to date has been the Building Safety and Resilience in the Pacific program which is a commitment of $25.7 million to support local resilience programs in collaboration with the African, Caribbean, and Pacific group of states. But their programs also target agricultural and community needs through drought resistance and ways to make indigenous structures more resilient to natural disasters.

Global Environment Facility: Reefs and ecosystems resilience

The Global Environment Facility is another important source of support in building disaster resilient communities in the Pacific. Seven programs identified by Lowy have seen GEF commit $40 million in investment since 2011.

Through their Pacific Ridge to Reef program, $26 million will support the Marshall Islands, Niue, Palau, Tonga, Micronesia, Fiji, and Kiribati through a range of land, forest, and coastal initiatives that aim to assist hazard risk reduction and enable countries and their environment to be resilient to climate variability.

Additional initiatives target specific climate change resilience needs in the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and Samoa, including tourism resilience.

Small and emerging donors

In addition to key partners supporting the Pacific in building infrastructure, economies, governance, environments, and communities for disaster resilience, some small and emerging donors are also making an impact.

The Global Green Growth Institute has invested half a million dollars in supporting Fiji in the implementation of the green growth framework.

The Adaptation Fund has provided support to Cook Islands, Samoa, and Solomon Islands through coastal, community, and climate resilient programs totaling $20 million.

And the International Fund for Agriculture Development has supported Tonga with a $3 million commitment through the Rural Development: Tonga Rural Innovation Project.

Donor countries

Germany has committed to a $14 million investment through five programs targeting PNG and the region as a whole — with agricultural resilience a key focus.

France has committed $2 million, according to the Lowy data, with environmental and energy challenges the focus of their resilience investments.

Canada is a very minor player with just hundreds of dollars committed to supporting leadership and learning programs with the Solomon Islands.

Japan is investing over half a million dollars in four projects, including $333,000 on a regional initiative to support women’s leadership in tsunami-based disaster risk reduction training.

And Korea, through the Korea International Cooperation Agency, has additionally been involved in small investments in disaster resilience, totaling just over a quarter of a million dollars according to the Lowy data.

Sweden and India are among the other minor donor countries supporting disaster resilience in the region.

Despite its clear position in the Pacific, according to the Lowy data New Zealand — through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade — is a minor player in disaster resilience support in the Pacific.

Its data provides insight into seven programs that are supporting disaster resilience through humanitarian aid and reconstruction as well as initiatives supporting agriculture, economic development, and tourism. Their investment totals $4.7 million, with the largest program a $2.2 million initiative supporting resilience through highland economic development in PNG.

But its impact is expected to increase as New Zealand plans a “Pacific reset” consisting of 180 million New Zealand dollars ($122 million) in support to the Pacific, with an important focus on resilience building.

China too is expected to increase its investment in supporting Pacific resilience. The Lowy data currently has one project listed — a $1.6 million project supporting Micronesia in drought relief and climate change adaptation. But a boost to Chinese aid to the Pacific, which reportedly will see $4 billion invested, is likely to see China increase the number of programs supporting disaster resilience.

The Lowy data has the United Kingdom committing to supporting two disaster resilience projects in Fiji for a combined investment of less than $50,000 — part of the Strengthening National Governance of Climate Adaptation in the Pacific Region program. But through the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme, they will be bringing a new approach, and funding, to disaster resilience through the use of satellite technology for smarter preparation and response.

Importance of working with Pacific nations

Speaking with Devex, PNG’s High Commissioner to Australia Sakias Tameo explained that Pacific nations are supportive of countries and donors that wished to partner with them in building disaster resilience.

“We are very happy to work with donors that will support us and listen to our needs,” he said.

More support can increase awareness of the Pacific challenges, and encourage more donors to support their calls for greater climate action.

But the key to true resilience in these programs and partnerships, Tameo explained, was in ensuring donors and funders were working in collaboration with Pacific nations — not dictating what needs to change.

“Pacific people have our own characteristics and priorities and goals,” he said. “We know what is best for ourselves and we need partners coming in, but how we deal with things, perceive things, and our understanding is important. And things have to be done our way for long-term success.”

With their lives and livelihoods in the balance, programs supporting disaster resilience cannot — and will not — be left in the hands of partners.

About the author

  • Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Senior Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.