Island Vulnerability explores the challenges which isolated geographies face when dealing with risk and disasters by examining the processes which create, maintain, and could be used to reduce their vulnerability. This page provides information on the Pacific:
This page provides information specifically related to vulnerability (including risk, disasters, and sustainability), rather than general information such as travel details, country profiles, government websites, or history. The information provided is not intended to be comprehensive, but is indicative of the vulnerabilities which islands experience and how sustainable solutions might be developed and implemented. The publications listed reflect those in the library of Island Vulnerability.
Some Pacific Region Websites
Some Pacific Region References
Federated States of MicronesiaSome Resources:
Traditional home in North Tarawa and the bridge to South Tarawa.
Marshall IslandsSome Resources:
Watching the sea on the Marshall Islands.
Nauru (photo copyright James Lewis, 1976).
Infanta, Quezon showing damage following the late-2004 typhoon disaster.
Solomon IslandsSome Resources:
Commentary by Ilan Kelman on 5 January 2003:
On 28 December 2002, the islands of Tikopia and Anuta of the Solomon Islands suffered one of the most severe tropical cyclones ever recorded in the area, Category 5 Cyclone Zoe. Tikopia and Anuta are accessible only by boat and are isolated and remote even by small island standards. After the tropical cyclone passed, no communication could be established with the islands.
Rather than governments taking the initiative to discover what had happened to their own people or neighbours, it took a Western (Kiwi) film-maker, Geoff Mackley, to hire a Cessna in Vanuatu. On 1 January 2003, he broke the story of complete devastation, a contaminated water supply, and a few survivors improvising shelter.
The photographs below were taken during the flight over Tikopia and Anuta on 1 January 2003 by Geoff Mackley who kindly gave his permission for the images to be reposted here.
Mackley's trip was the first contact which the outside world had had with these islands since the cyclone had hit, but he could not land due to a lack of an airstrip. Mackley reported "every tree on the island has been blown over or shredded, the island is completely denuded of vegetation, almost every building has been damaged, quite a few remain traditional huts remain intact, while others have been shredded, and the sea has come through some villages and run into the lake which is the islands only water source, this sort of destruction is normally seen only after a strong tornado or volcanic eruption, a number of people, maybe 20 came down to the beach to watch us fly over, my pilot said he counted about 100 people in total, some signalled us with sheets of white plastic, others just sat there". His words were irresponsibly misquoted by some media which reported that everyone was dead and that the islands were flattened by tornadoes.
Movement towards relief operations occurred only after Mackley's story broke, but further delays resulted from the Solomon Islands government’s lack of money to pay for ships, crews, and supplies. Australia and New Zealand donated money, but with concerns about corruption since previous aid to the Solomon Islands had been squandered. Then, logistics issues including weather and seeking a larger vessel further delayed the trip.
In the meantime, an Australian military aircraft flew over the islands. The crew contradicted some of Mackley's statements, in particular not painting such a bleak picture, yet they produced no solid evidence to back up their statements. For example, they suggested that the people were okay because they were building and repairing shelters. After five days, it should be obvious that people will start to reconstruct, irrespective of losses experienced (or, perhaps, not experienced). The building of shelter after a disaster, as with eating and drinking, indicates common sense and a desire to meet individuals' and communities' basic needs.
Photographs taken during a flight over Tikopia and Anuta on 1 January 2003 by Geoff Mackley who kindly gave his permission for the images to be reposted here.
For The Weekend Australian, Mackley hired a helicopter in Vanuatu and landed on Tikopia Island with some relief supplies on 3 January 2003. All the islanders had survived by sheltering in caves which they regularly use to shelter from cyclones. Their food and water situation, however, was dire. As well, one islander estimated that, due to the destruction, they might not be able to be self-sufficient in food for three years.
From one perspective, the affected islanders did exactly what they should have done and managed to reduce their vulnerability by being aware of the impending storm, warning the community, and acting appropriately and timeously to the warnings. Some commentators had stated that these islanders are entirely self-sufficient and are used to dealing with severe cyclones. Nonetheless, the disinterest displayed by governments in acting swiftly shows a lack of common sense and basic respect in checking that compatriots and neighbours are okay, particularly when it was unclear if sustainability endeavours have been supported or successful in the past. If a film-maker could do it, so could governments.
Concerns were raised about political issues hampering relief efforts. The Solomon Islands' government and the people of Tikopia and Anuta were reported to be from different ethnic groups which has led to tension and non-payment of taxes. As well, the closest inhabited islands to Tikopia and Anuta belong to Vanuatu. The possibly most efficient relief operation would then have been based in a different country, potentially causing loss of face to the Solomon Islands.
Narrower, specific questions also need to be answered. When the Australian military aircraft flew over the islands, why did they not parachute in a basic communication device such as a radio or satellite phone (whichever would work better) along with instructions on how to use it? Even better, why did someone not parachute in with communication devices and some basic supplies? They would not be on the island for more than one week and they could have assessed the situation and reported back immediately.
Rescue services and the military risk their lives to rescue daredevils in races or doing stunts, including incidents in the middle of the sea. Australia paid Pacific islands to take refugees that were not good enough to set foot on Australian soil. Yet they could not do a small, quick, relatively cheap, relatively less risky task for people in need through little fault of their own.
As a precautionary measure, airdrops of food and water could have been made. If these supplies were not needed, then little would have been lost (assuming that the airdrops did not land on something valuable or on people, as has happened in the past). Such airdrops were conducted by the military during the war in Afghanistan at the end of 2001, so the logistics capability exists. Tikopia is clearly within helicopter range, so why did no government bother?
Mackley also compiled a list of stupid statements made on the situation by politicians. These statements, corroborated by other reports, show an astounding lack of interest in establishing facts along with a reprehensible attitude towards human beings suffering disaster. Has the West really become so insular--creating our own societal islands--and so insensitive that we do not even care that such attitudes augment our own social vulnerabilities?
Cyclone Zoe has epitomised the vulnerabilities and isolation of islands. The vulnerabilities were exacerbated, and the isolation was enhanced, by inexcusable human decisions and actions outside the islands affected by the immediate disaster. A new disaster, one of not caring, has emerged. This disaster has far more grievous long-term consequences than the initial event which led to this situation.
Ship Said to Have Been Sunk During Cyclone Isaac in 1982.
James Lewis writes (2 February 2008): "Town Officer Moeake Tokai and his wife the day after he had recounted to me the story of the 1946 eruption and subsequent evacuation from Niua Fo'ou. Taken at their house on 'Eua, Tonga in 1978".
Environmental Damage, Said to be From Cyclone Heta in 2004.
Collapsed roof after a storm on Vaitupu.
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