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Handling Weather Disasters: The Resilience and Adaptive Capacity of Pacific Island Communities

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Indigenous Pacific Approaches to Climate Change

Part of the book series: Palgrave Studies in Disaster Anthropology ((PSDA))

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Handling weather disasters through the lens of earlier disasters, as well as recent ones such as Cyclone Winston in Fiji, and other recent floods, the resilience and adaptation of peoples are examined here. How people prepare for, then cope with disasters, utilizing indigenous knowledge systems is shown as still having significance in the contemporary era. Modern disaster planning needs to take account of such knowledge and especially acknowledge that people have far more awareness of how to prepare than planners often give communities credit for. The need to understand customary management practices, including land tenure systems and leadership should not be ignored.

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  1. 1.

    Bell et al. (2016) warn also of potential destruction of the newly revived cacao production in places such as Vanuatu and Fiji.

  2. 2.

    For example, see Morrow and Bowen (2014).

  3. 3.

    Ikeda (2014), page 43.

  4. 4.

    Connell (2010).

  5. 5.

    Wyett (2013).

  6. 6.

    Pacific Institute of Public Policy (2012). ‘Climate Security: a holistic approach to climate change, security and development’ Discussion Paper 23, Port Vila, page 3.

  7. 7.

    Gero, Fletcher, Rumsey, Thiessen, Kuruppu, Buchan, Daly and Willetts (2015).

  8. 8.

    D’Arcy (2006: 128).

  9. 9.

    McLean (1977).

  10. 10.

    Raj (2004).

  11. 11.

    Yeo and Blong (2010), page 657.

  12. 12.

    McLean (1977), page 17.

  13. 13.

    In the past forty years since independence many other severe floods have affected Fiji with much damage and loss of life. Between 1983 and 2003 there were seven major events including the Tropical Cyclone Kina flood (January 1993), that followed a severe drought induced by the El Niño event of 1992/93. This is considered to be the most severe in recent history, with damage amounting to some US $100 million and 23 deaths (Bryant-Tokalau and Campbell 2014; Raj 2004: 2).

  14. 14.

    Bryant-Tokalau and Campbell (2014).

  15. 15.

    Raj (2004).

  16. 16.

    Bryant-Tokalau and Campbell (2014).

  17. 17.

    Yeo and Blong (2010: 661).

  18. 18.

    Yeo and Blong (2010: 668).

  19. 19.

    Yeo and Blong (2010: 669).

  20. 20.

    Chandra (1990).

  21. 21.

    Haberkorn (2008).

  22. 22.

    See, for example, the paper by Yeo and Blong (2010).

  23. 23.

    The issue of what is ‘urban’ and how this leads to differing responses is also to be examined here.

  24. 24.

    Writers such as Timothy Peter Bayliss-Smith (1977), Hurricane Val in north Lakeba: the view from 1975, pp. 65–98 in McLean, Bayliss-Smith, Brookfield and Campbell (1977), Campbell (2006) and organizations such as SOPAC (2009).

  25. 25.

    Ravuvu (1988).

  26. 26.

    SOPAC (2009: 39).

  27. 27.

    Bryant-Tokalau and Campbell (2014).

  28. 28.

    Campbell (2006) notes in his papers on disaster preparedness the most important issue of food security and how systems of surpluses, preservation, the fragmentation of gardening land and diversity of production all contribute to better resilience in the face of disaster. He also discusses inter and intra-community cooperation through traditional ceremonies and cultures of exchange, as well as ways of predicting future storms through observations of indicators such as sumptuous fruiting of trees and changed behaviour of fish and birdlife. Historical building practices developed over centuries in response to the environment and particularly to withstand adverse weather conditions are important in Campbell’s work where he describes features such as the lashing of roofs and deep house posts indicating responses to fierce weather.

  29. 29.

    McMillen, Ticktin, Friedlander, Jupiter, Thaman, Campbell, Veitayaki, Giambelluca, Nihmei, Rupeni, Apis-Overhoff, Aalbersberg and Orcherton (2014).

  30. 30.

    Brookfield (1977).

  31. 31.

    M. Brookfield (1977), and see Bryant-Tokalau and Campbell (2014) in their paper on coping with floods.

  32. 32.

    Refer Bayliss-Smith, same volume (1977: 70–72).

  33. 33.

    Muriel Brookfield (1977: 103).

  34. 34.

    Brookfield (1977: 107–110), Bryant-Tokalau and Campbell (2014: 140–141).

  35. 35.

    Bayliss-Smith (1977: 72).

  36. 36.

    Brookfield (1977: 120).

  37. 37.

    Bayliss-Smith (1977: 80).

  38. 38.

    Brookfield (1977: 120–123).

  39. 39.

    Brookfield (1977:123), Bryant-Tokalau and Campbell (2014).

  40. 40.

    Brookfield (1977: 125), Bryant-Tokalau and Campbell (2014).

  41. 41.

    Brookfield (1977: 139).

  42. 42.

    Brookfield (1977: 134).

  43. 43.

    Bryant-Tokalau and Campbell (2014).

  44. 44.

    Brookfield (1977: 143).

  45. 45.

    Bayliss-Smith (1977: 82–91).

  46. 46.

    Bryant-Tokalau and Campbell (2014: 142).

  47. 47.

    Kelman, Lewis, Gaillard and Mercer (2011).

  48. 48.

    Bell et al., for example, in 2016 presented a relentlessly negative view of the future of PICs in the face of climate change, but this is not borne out by what people have done and continue to do for themselves, as well as the views of indigenous researchers.

  49. 49.

    McMillen et al. (2014: 44).

  50. 50.

    McMillen et al. (2014: 45).

  51. 51.

    Veitayaki (1997: 6).

  52. 52.

    Fiji’s LMMA areas cover around 800 of Fiji’s approximately 10,000 villages, but looking at locally managed coastal areas, around 75 per cent are covered, a far higher success than elsewhere in the Pacific (Govan, Pers. Comm. April 2017).

  53. 53.

    There is some discussion in Fiji in recent times about removing the role of chiefs in the granting of fishing licences. This could be extremely damaging as communities will then lose their rights to manage coastal areas (Govan, Pers. Comm. April 2017).

  54. 54.

    I would further contend that the failure (by omission in planning) to recognize that people in urban areas also have indigenous knowledge is a key oversight in disaster management.

  55. 55.

    See, for example, Veitayaki’s paper on mangrove management, based on his work in Gau and on Viti Levu in Fiji. This has resonance for the wider Pacific (Veitayaki et al. 2017).


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Bryant-Tokalau, J. (2018). Handling Weather Disasters: The Resilience and Adaptive Capacity of Pacific Island Communities. In: Indigenous Pacific Approaches to Climate Change. Palgrave Studies in Disaster Anthropology. Palgrave Pivot, Cham.

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