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As floods continue in Fiji, UN stresses need to boost preventive measures

3 February 2012 – The United Nations disaster risk reduction agency stressed today the need to boost preventive measures in Fiji, as heavy rains are predicted to occur more frequently in the archipelago nation, which has been ravaged by severe floods over the past week.

A 15-day state of emergency has been declared in Fiji’s west coast areas, and a flood watch is currently in place as more rains are expected to hit the country. Population in vulnerable areas have been advised to evacuate.

“These types of events are likely to continue to occur,” said Angelika Planitz, sub-regional coordinator for the Pacific for the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR).

“Scientists are exploring the evidence that climate change and developments in low-lying flood-prone areas such as Nadi and Ba are contributing factors. In the interim, improved preparedness and early warning, two important elements of disaster risk reduction, will have to remain important and urgent priorities.”

According to UNISDR, eight people have died and there have been 51 reported cases of water-related diseases, including diarrhoea and typhoid, as a result of the floods. In addition, some 1,300 have been evacuated from their homes, and the damage caused is estimated to be about $30 million.

A recent publication produced by UNISDR and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) warned that in western Fiji, high-intensity floods would become more frequent. In the Nadi area, for example, these type of floods used to occur every 190 years, but by 2100 it is projected that they will occur every 25 years, making it essential for the Government to prepare.

Two of the affected cities, Nadi and Ba, are participating in UNISDR’s 'World Disaster Reduction Campaign – Making Cities Resilient’ – an initiative to reduce urban risks from climate-related disasters.

“In Nadi, an Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP) helps to reduce the risk of flooding from low- to medium-intensity rainfall. Mitigating impacts from intensive rainfall, however, remains a challenge,” said Ms. Planitz.

“More low pressure systems are likely to approach Fiji in the coming days. It will be important to warn already affected populations of the potential threats. Getting the messages out to remote areas which are still out of electricity is an important priority,” she added.

The IWMP is funded by UNDP – Global Environmental Facility (GEF) with support from the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), the Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).