Nature can help lessen flood impacts says IUCN

02 February 2012 | News story

While flooding in the western division of Vitilevu in Fiji cannot be avoided or prevented, its impacts can be minimized if nature’s health is kept intact says IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature. 

"Nature itself can help control the destruction caused by natural disasters such as flooding," says Taholo Kami, Regional Director of IUCN Oceania Regional Office. “Ecosystems such as forests, floodplains, wetlands including mangroves provide the natural infrastructure needed to lessen the impacts of flooding".

Previously affected by the floods of 2009, Nadi and its neighboring towns in the west are once again left with a trail of destruction affecting people, infrastructure and the environment.

The flooding has caused the death of six people, destroyed more than 100 homes and is estimated to have affected half the crops and livestock in western Viti Levu. The economic losses are estimated to be above FJD$17 million.

“We urge the government of Fiji and the town councils of Nadi, Ba and Rakiraki to strengthen their investment in proper management of forests, mangroves and other wetland areas,” says Dr. Milika Sobey, Water and Wetlands Programme Coordinator at IUCN Oceania Regional Office. “If we continue to give way to unsustainable landuse practises we risk losing nature’s ability to protect us against large floods.”

“We give credit to the important work being carried out by SPC’s SOPAC division and the Nadi Basin Catchment Committee in implementing a flood risk management plan for Nadi Basin. We hope this will eventually help manage impacts from flooding.”

IUCN’s Oceania Regional Office has worked in partnership with SOPAC to implement the “GEF funded Integrated Water Resource Management Demonstration Project” since 2010. Led by the Land and Water Resources Management section of the Ministry of Primary Industries, several activities in the flood management plan have been undertaken while others are on-going.

Logging in catchment areas is one of the main problems identified by the project.

"Native trees have been planted in the upper catchment and along the river banks in 2011 to minimise the effects of logging,” says Dr. Sobey. “Natural floodplains are important in storing water during floods and can buffer the impact of large floods, by slowing the flow of water and storing water to lower flood peaks.”

Other activities already undertaken by the project include installation of retention dams and early flood warning systems, and training of government officials as well as community representatives on ecosystem-based management and disaster-risk reduction.

"The communities of the Nadi Basin have been involved in this work from the start and they have been adequately informed on flood preparedness,” says Dr. Sobey.

Other agencies actively implementing the project include the Hydrology Unit of the Water Authority of Fiji, Department of Forestry, Fiji Meteorology Service, Nadi Town Council, Provincial Office, Department of Environment and Fiji’s National Disaster Management Office.

Plans for a similar project in Ba is in place. Ba was one of the worst affected towns by the recent flooding.

 For more information please contact:
Salote Sauturaga, IUCN Oceania Regional Office Communications Officer, m+679 9769299, e salote.sauturaga@iucn.org