Disaster risk managers have been baffled by the convergence of seismic and climate risks as recently demonstrated in the ‘Blue Pacific Continent’ early this month when powerful twin cyclones blasted into the small Pacific island nation of Vanuatu followed just two days by a ruinous earthquake of magnitude of 6.5.

This was even as the world is recovering from the catastrophic quakes in Turkey, while the Southern Indian Ocean is hosting Freddy, arguably the longest-lasting storm on record as a cyclone, as it aims to hit Mozambique for a second time more than a month after genesis.

Intensifying risk convergence

Seismic and climate risks are converging and intensifying, according to Sanjay Srivastava, Chief of Disaster Risk Reduction, at Bangkok-based UN-ESCAP. No community feels this stronger than those of the Blue Pacific Continent, he wrote to businessline. The ‘Blue Pacific’ refers to a partnership launched recently by the US, and New Zealand, Australia, the UK, and Japan with the region’s small island nations.

Destructive Category-4 tropical cyclones Judy and Kevin, and the earthquake impacted over 80 per cent of the Vanuatu population from March 1 to 3. Sitting in the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, Vanuatu experiences frequent volcanic and seismic activity. Along with the other Pacific small island developing States (SIDS), it faces existential threats due to rising sea level, ocean acidification and increased frequency and severity of natural disasters.

Transformative actions

An ESCAP analysis shows that at 1.5 to 2.0 °C warming, there are likely intensifying annual wind speeds of tropical cyclones and that the risk is expected to expand and include newer areas beyond the historical tracks. Lying 3,600 km to the North-East of Australia, Vanuatu will experience higher risk both in terms of cyclone intensification and geographic expansion of the risk scape. Vanuatu is very much on the front line of climate crisis, Srivastava said.

As the climate changes, the risk scape is transforming. The argument for transformative action to mitigate and adapt to intensifying and expanding disaster risks in the Blue Pacific Continent has never been more compelling. First, early warning for all is an imperative, and needs to capture compounding risks, points out Srivastava.

UN sets 2027 target

The UN Secretary-General highlighted that every person on the planet is to be covered by early warning systems by 2027. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction sets the increase in availability and access to of multi-hazard early warning systems as a distinct target, Target G, to be achieved by 2030.

Second, transformative adaptation solutions are needed. “To minimise and prevent systemic and cascading risk, we need to make new infrastructure and water resource management more resilient. Improving dryland crop production and using nature-based solutions such as increasing mangroves protection are also priority adaptation solutions,” Srivastava added.

Blue Pacific Strategy

Third, the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent provides a clear pathway. With the adoption of the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent in July 2022, Pacific SIDS has developed a clear pathway to synergise regional priorities with accelerated implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the SAMOA Pathway.

Next-generation risk analytics, advances in climate science, geospatial modeling, Artificial Intelligence, and machine learning must be at the heart of people-centered and evidence-based decision-making. The Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific is an ideal platform to take forward some of the policy decisions. Tropical cyclones, often transboundary in nature, require an architecture of regional cooperation mechanisms to effectively manage the shared risks. In this instance, local capacities and regional support mechanisms should be commended.