The Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) are home to 10 million people and comprise 530,000 km2 of land spread over an area that is more than 15 percent of the earth’s surface. The region is also one of the most disaster-affected in the world, facing an elevated risk from climaterelated hazards ranging from tropical cyclones and storm surges to floods, droughts, and sea-level rise.
The climate-related shocks and disasters increasingly pose a threat to sustainable growth and stability in the region. Vanuatu, Tonga, and the Solomon Islands rank among the highest in the world for disaster risk according to the World Risk Index 2021, which assesses 181 countries based on countries’ exposure, susceptibility, coping capacities and adaptive capacities to disasters and climate change.
Additionally, the El Niño and La Niña cycles impact the region through the loss of livelihoods for agriculture and fisheries dependent households, leading to large-scale economic losses. The region also faces a risk from geophysical hazards such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunamis. On average, direct losses due to natural disasters in the South Pacific are estimated at US$284 million per year. In the medium to longer-term, climate-related disasters are expected to increase in number and scale, especially in relation to El Niño and La Niña cycles. Hence managing risks related to disasters is a high priority for the region, however, is challenging due to the small land size, remoteness, and fragile ecosystems of Pacific nations.
Despite the extreme vulnerability to natural hazards, PICTs have made notable progress in recent decades, with an increase in life expectancy and a decline in infant mortality rates. On the contrary, economic growth has been well below the global average and the prevalence of macro and micronutrient deficiencies among women and children remains a significant concern. One in four children in Vanuatu, one in three children in the Solomon Islands and one in two children in PNG are reported as being stunted. Poorly nourished children are more vulnerable to disease, tend to show lower performance in school, and are less likely to be productive adults. The prolonged health and socioeconomic effects of COVID-19 can only be expected to further deepen these vulnerabilities.