On the island of Vanua Levu, in Fiji’s Northern Division, the Fiji government is taking an innovative approach to redeveloping a local township to bolster economic growth in the region. As they plan new infrastructure for the town of Seaqaqa, and consider potential risks to their investment, they have found that disaster prevention is not that costly. In fact, it can save millions of dollars. By investing more in resilient infrastructure now, government, the private sector and communities will avoid heavy costs during times of disaster.
Situated in the inland area between Savusavu and Labasa town centres in the Northern Division, the Seaqaqa District often experiences dry spells which devastate the region. A dry spell can cost over FJD4 million (approximately USD2 million) in water carting (as government pays for trucks to deliver water to vulnerable communities); children also suffer from cholera and scabies outbreaks and sugar cane farmers fail to attract labourers because farm bores can run out of water.
Fiji’s Commissioner Northern, Jovesa Vocea, oversees both disaster response and development across the Northern Division. He explains that “during disaster events, the development progress of the Northern Division is hindered by the diversion of much-needed government funds to disaster response and repairs”. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Small adjustments to how development decisions are made can make a big difference to whether a cyclone, or a drought, becomes disastrous.
While increased disaster response capability, and climate change adaptation projects, are important for responding to a changing climate, the 2017 Fiji Climate Vulnerability Assessment (Fiji Government. 2017. Fiji Climate Vulnerability Assessment. Fiji Government, Suva) highlights that everyday development decisions can play a much greater role in disaster prevention. The report highlights that climate related risks must be considered in the design of system infrastructure, and in the location and design of individual facilities.
In 2017, the Fiji Ministry of Rural and Maritime Development adopted risk screening into the Ministry’s standard operating procedure and training programme, which aims to screen public sector investment proposals for risks to and from the projects.
Trials in small scale development projects (such as the Nasolo farm road in the north of the country, the Tukuraki village development in the west, and government offices and a health centre in rural areas) have proven that projects that consider risk in their design and implementation can limit the need to pay twice for development. https://twitter.com/UNDP_Pacific/status/1082738343958302720
Not only are the costs of post-disaster repair and replacement minimised by risk management measures, there are also less flow on effects and disruptions to peoples’ livelihoods and health.
These lessons are now being applied to larger scale government investments, such as the Seaqaqa Township redevelopment, which is a priority in the Northern Division’s Development Plan 2016–2021. Upgrades to the town’s infrastructure will be made over a period of five years, through the combined efforts of many government agencies including Fiji Roads Authority, Fiji Water Authority, Department of Town and Country Planning, Energy Fiji Limited, Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Rural and Maritime Development through Commissioner Northern’s Office.
Given the region’s history of water shortages, it is no surprise that one of the first priorities for the township redevelopment is for an upgrade to the Seaqaqa water supply. The proposed upgrade will tap into a gravity fed water source that will service a greater population in the Seaqaqa surrounds and will include nearly 12 kilometres of pipeline, and over 5 kilometres of road.
The Water Authority of Fiji has begun designing a ‘risk informed’ budget submission for the water upgrade. There are two key benefits for integrating risk considerations into the design of the upgrade. First, when savings in disaster costs are outlined in business cases and development project proposals, this information can help justify infrastructure investments that are marginally more expensive initially, but more resilient over time (as outlined above, an upgrade to water supply provides significant social benefits, and cost savings at times of low rainfall). Second, to identify risks to and from the project to limit water supply disruptions in the future.
A team from the Water Authority of Fiji in the Northern Division Depot identified the highest risks to and from the Seaqaqa water upgrade project. This risk assessment was supported by a Senior Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management Officer based in the Commissioner Northern’s Office; the Ministry for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation; and, UNDP’s Pacific Risk Resilience Programme. Key risks identified include heavy rainfall, flooding and soil erosion as well as the potential for community disputes and vandalism. Ultimately, the goal of the team is to establish pipes that are not disrupted by heavy rainfall, access roads that are less prone to wash out, pipes that are not disrupted by heavy rainfall and minimisation of social risks from projects.
The Water Authority team judged that many risks, such as heavy rainfall, could be managed if taken into account during detailed survey designs, and during consultation and agreements with contractors and landholders. Given that climate change will make heavy rainfall events more likely in Fiji, investing up-front in risk management measures will pay off even more into the future as damage to infrastructure (which in this case will need to last up to 45 years) becomes increasingly likely.
It is clear that more resilient infrastructure pays off over time. For example, in the case of the Seaqaqa water upgrade, savings of up to FJD24 million in water cartage could be made over a ten-year period, through a one-off investment in a FJD4.5 million water upgrade.
The Pacific Risk Resilience Programme will work closely with the Commissioner Northern’s Office in the coming years to risk inform other aspects of the Seaqaqa township development. This process will include the private sector, non-government organisations, and local community representatives. A ‘Seaqaqa Business Resilient Development Network’ has been formed to enable the collective voice of the private sector in relation to the town’s development.