On the 13th and 14th of March the category five Cyclone Pam tore across the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, decimating villages and towns and destroying an estimated 90 percent of buildings in the capital Port Vila. The full impact of the disaster across the cluster of more than 80 islands is not yet known.
Robin Cross, Managing Director of Article 25, urges the international community to help ensure that the infrastructure on Vanuatu is rebuilt better, safer and more resilient:
“The devastating impact of Cyclone Pam on Vanuatu is a sad reminder of the crucial importance of safe and resilient buildings. When the buildings fail, the social and economic life they support also fails. We can’t prevent natural disasters but we can mitigate their impact. Well-constructed buildings can make the difference between 300,000 and zero deaths.
Once the immediate emergency response effort has been implemented, the developed economies must support a long term programme of reconstruction to provide the people of Vanuatu with buildings that are sturdy and reduce the impact of future climate events.
It is not expensive or difficult to implement a programme of design and construction that provides communities with disaster-resilient housing: it simply requires investment in the right kind of construction. Communities must also be provided with safe refuges to which they can retreat as soon as warnings of an approaching cyclone or typhoon go out. These refuges can be community buildings that operate as schools or clinics all year round. In Bangladesh, this approach has significantly reduced deaths in storm events. It is also essential to get schools up and running again as quickly as possible to help reintroduce stability into the children’s lives and free up parents to work on recovering and rebuilding.
The frequency of devastating climate events such as cyclones, hurricanes and typhoons is increasing with the impact of climate change, and it is most frequently vulnerable communities in the developing world who are bearing the brunt of this legacy of industrial development in the developed economies. Just as we in Europe are part of the problem, we also have the opportunity to be part of the solution, providing skills, expertise and funding to mitigate the impact of future disasters. Article 25 can mobilise design and construction skills in the UK and put them to work where they will make the greatest difference.”