The Role and Capacity of Government in a Climate Crisis: Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu

Johanna Nalau, J. Handmer and Malcolm Dalesa


The Republic of Vanuatu has long been regarded as one of the most vulnerable countries in the world due to its exposure to multiple hazards such as cyclones, earthquakes and tsunamis and its social and economic vulnerabilities (World Risk Report 2015). 75% of Vanuatu’s population lives in rural areas scattered across many islands with high reliance on subsistence farming for their livelihoods (Malvatumauri 2012). Such population dispersal, across islands and distant rural areas is typical of Melanesian countries, and poses challenges to service delivery and disaster recovery (Wickham et al. 2009). This has also major bearings in terms of food security, climate adaptation, and disaster risk reduction strategies given both the projected climate change scenarios and current disaster vulnerability (Government of Vanuatu 2015a).

The country is highly exposed to cyclones and other hazards (https://en. It is threatened by about two cyclones a year. Other regular climate hazards are heavy rain, flooding, landslides and occasionally drought. It is also prone to regular earthquakes and contains a number of active volcanoes. Vanuatu has in effect, two economies, both highly vulnerable to natural hazards. There is a market economy largely within

J. Nalau (H)

Griffith Climate Change Response Program and Griffith Institute for Tourism,

Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia e-mail: This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

J. Handmer

Centre for Risk and Community Safety, Mathematical and Geospatial Sciences,

RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia

M. Dalesa

UNDP Pacific Risk Resilience Programme, Port Vila, Vanuatu

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017 151

W. Leal Filho (ed.), Climate Change Adaptation in Pacific Countries,

Climate Change Management, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-50094-2_9

urban areas and a subsidence economy, which provides livelihoods for the majority of people. Within the urban economy tourism is the largest employer. The majority of people depend on their own crops for survival. If these are damaged then external assistance is needed. Even the threat of a cyclone will lead to mass cancellations disrupting tourism—and this effect is felt across the country including areas far from any direct impacts.

As a Least Developed Country (LDC), Vanuatu ranks medium-low in socioeconomic development (e.g. Human Development Index) and its economy is largely influenced by Migration, Remittances, Aid and Bureaucracy similar to other Small Island Developing States (Kuruppu and Willie 2015), with tourism, aid, and construction as the three largest economic sectors (Government of Vanuatu 2015b). In the 2015 Human Development Report Vanuatu was ranked134 out of 188 countries, which is considered to be “medium”, similar to Myanmar, Ghana and Nicaragua (UNDP 2015). Yet, paradoxically Vanuatu also ranked as the world’s happiest country in 2006 and 2008 based on life expectancy, ecological footprint, and experienced well-being (NEF 2016). Vanuatu’s position on the Human Development Index, its very high level of exposure to natural extremes, and its vulnerability to those extremes, reinforce its situation as a small island developing state. This also highlights its vulnerability to climate change, and the potential role of climate justice in supporting the country to adapt to change.

In March 2015, category 5 Tropical Cyclone Pam (hereafter TC Pam) made landfall in Vanuatu on the 13th of March 2015 causing wide spread damage. Out of Vanuatu’s population of 246 000 approximately 188 000 people were impacted by TC Pam (Shelter Cluster 2015). 75,000 people were in need of shelters, 110 000 people in need of clean drinking water (OCHA 2015), and 81% of housing had some damage (Secretariat of the Pacific Community 2015), with economic damages up to 64.1% of Vanuatu’s GDP (Government of Vanuatu 2015b). The worst impacted province was the southern Tafea province as the eye of TC Pam went directly over the island of Tanna on the 14th of March stripping off all the green vegetation. Approximately 60-80% of community structures were destroyed on Tanna, with significant damage to livestock, crops, and infrastructure (Tafea Provincial Disaster Committee and CARE International 2015). Following the Cyclone, a UN General Assembly resolution (A/RES/70/78, 9 December 2015), extended Vanuatu’s status as a Least Developed Country by three years (until December 2020), as a result of “the unique disruption caused to the economic and social progress of Vanuatu by Cyclone Pam”.

This chapter looks at the governance responses to TC Pam and in particular at recovery coordination and management, and identifies a range of contextual issues that acted as constraints in providing effective governance of the response. In doing so, it examines three different governance models, which emerged in the post-disaster context and explain to some extent the differing views on disaster response and its perceived success. The research presented in this chapter is based on a desktop study and discussions with multiple stakeholder groups in Vanuatu who were involved in TC Pam responses and governance. The chapter is organised in the following manner: section “Recovery Coordination and Management for

Cyclone Pam” examines recovery response coordination and management and identifies a range of contextual issues, which emerged in the recovery process. Section “Vanuatu’s Disaster Risk Governance” discusses the future implications of TC Pam and similar storms in the Pacific, while section “Way Forward” provides the conclusions and recommendations arising from this research.

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