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Integrating Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management to Protect Health and Build Resilience in Pacific Islands

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Session Description: 

Climate change is affecting the Pacific Islands and their populations through rising temperatures, changing precipitation, and a growing number of extreme weather and climate events: droughts, floods, storm surge, and sea level rise. Pacific Island countries are globally ranked among the most vulnerable to climate change. In addition, Pacific Islands populations experience very high rates of non-communicable diseases, including obesity, diabetes, and hypertension (WHO 2015). Overlaying climate change with health vulnerabilities, limited resources and often isolated islands, and demographic and socioeconomic challenges underscores the need to develop a research agenda to build resilient communities and health systems in the Pacific Islands.

Assessments of the vulnerabilities and adaptation priorities in 13 Pacific island countries (Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu) concluded that the highest priority climate-sensitive health risks included trauma from extreme weather events, heat-related illnesses, compromised safety and security of water and food, vector borne diseases, zoonoses, respiratory illnesses, psychosocial ill-health, non-communicable diseases, population pressures, and health system deficiencies (Figure 1, WHO 2015). The assessments concluded that adaptation is urgently needed to prepare for and manage the current and projected health risks of climate change in the Pacific.

Many of the health risks are associated with perturbations to the water cycle. Recent assessments conducted in over one hundred communities in fifteen Pacific Island countries identified access to clean water and sanitation as the priority for action in more than 80% of the communities.

The risks of extreme weather and climate events in Pacific Islands are highlighted in the UNISDR Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Management 2015-2030. Entire populations can be affected when cyclones, floods, droughts, and other extreme events hit a small island. Larger events can have long-lasting adverse consequences for recovery and overall development, presenting a threat to achieving development goals, such as poverty eradication and climate-resilient health systems. In 2016, the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific: An Integrated Approach to Address Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management (FRDP) 2017-2030 was adopted to provide high level strategic guidance to stakeholder groups on how to enhance resilience to climate change and disasters in Pacific Islands, in ways that contribute to and are embedded in sustainable development. The initiative is intended to make more efficient use of resources, rationalize multiple sources of funding that address similar needs, and increase effective mainstreaming of risks into development planning and budgets. The basis for the institutional elements was the Pacific Resource Partnership endorsed by Pacific Island Forum Leaders at their 47th meeting in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia, September 2017.

The United Nations adopted a new Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 aimed at achieving “The Future We Want.” Sustainable development goal 3 is to ‘ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages’; goal 6 is to ‘ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’; and goal 13 is to ‘take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.’ The vision of the goals is that ‘people are at the center of sustainable development’. Disaster Risk Reduction is a cross cutting theme, with examples of avenues for promoting sustainability by decreasing disaster risk and increasing resilience. The Pacific Roadmap for Sustainable Development approved by leaders at the 47th Forum Leaders meeting sets a reporting framework for the SDG targets and goals into motion to ensure greater Pacific achievement of the SDGS for 2030 compared to the 2015 report for Pacific Regional Millennium Development Goals.

This workshop aims to further the integration of adaptation to climate change with disaster risk management, focusing the intersection of extreme weather and climate events, water quality and quantity in the Pacific, and population health and health systems.

Workshop Topic (s): 
  • Human Contributions & Responses
  • Water Cycle