Articles | Volume 16, issue 5
Research article
12 May 2016
Research article |  | 12 May 2016

Tropical cyclone perceptions, impacts and adaptation in the Southwest Pacific: an urban perspective from Fiji, Vanuatu and Tonga

Andrew D. Magee, Danielle C. Verdon-Kidd, Anthony S. Kiem, and Stephen A. Royle

Abstract. The destruction caused by tropical cyclone (TC) Pam in March 2015 is considered one of the worst natural disasters in the history of Vanuatu. It has highlighted the need for a better understanding of TC impacts and adaptation in the Southwest Pacific (SWP) region. Therefore, the key aims of this study are to (i) understand local perceptions of TC activity, (ii) investigate impacts of TC activity and (iii) uncover adaptation strategies used to offset the impacts of TCs. To address these aims, a survey (with 130 participants from urban areas) was conducted across three SWP small island states (SISs): Fiji, Vanuatu and Tonga (FVT). It was found that respondents generally had a high level of risk perception and awareness of TCs and the associated physical impacts, but lacked an understanding of the underlying weather conditions. Responses highlighted that current methods of adaptation generally occur at the local level, immediately prior to a TC event (preparation of property, gathering of food, finding a safe place to shelter). However higher level adaptation measures (such as the modification to building structures) may reduce vulnerability further. Finally, we discuss the potential of utilising weather-related traditional knowledge and non-traditional knowledge of empirical and climate-model-based weather forecasts to improve TC outlooks, which would ultimately reduce vulnerability and increase adaptive capacity. Importantly, lessons learned from this study may result in the modification and/or development of existing adaptation strategies.

Short summary
This study investigates how tropical cyclones impact urban residents of Fiji, Vanuatu and Tonga. We investigate how people perceive tropical cyclones (TCs), how they are impacted and what methods of adaptation are used to offset damage from TC activity. We propose a conceptual framework to merge the non-traditional knowledge of weather forecasting and climate science with weather-related traditional knowledge, and explore the possibilities of developing a multidimensional TC forecasting tool.
Final-revised paper