Strengthening the defences

03 December 2011 | News story

Nowhere are the effects of climate change being felt more than the Pacific Islands where governments are starting to realise the importance of managing ecosystems in a sustainable way to help their countries adapt to this growing challenge.

In small island countries such as in the Pacific, many people rely on healthy ecosystems such as natural floodplains, forests and wetlands to help protect them from floods. But when landscapes are altered, such as by draining mangroves for farmland or clearing forests to make way for agriculture on steeper slopes, normal ecosystem functions can be disrupted and the impacts of flooding on people in the area can be much worse.

In January 2009, Fiji suffered from extreme flooding which seriously affected many of the livelihoods in the Nadi river basin, impacting sugarcane harvests and other agricultural crops, as well as the tourism industry with many hotels suffering damage. The flooding cost the country millions of dollars and the effects are still being felt as infrastructure continues to be re-built.

Now a plan is being developed to reduce flood risk for the Nadi region. IUCN’s Water and Nature Initiative (WANI) is bringing its expertise to work with governments and local partners to show how ecosystem-based management of water resources can increase the resilience of both people and nature to extreme events.

The project area extends along the coastal areas from Nadi International Airport to Korovuto and up to the highlands of Sabeto and Nawaka, covering around 517km2. A Nadi Basin Catchment Committee (NBCC) has been established made up of local landowners, the town council and other groups who use the area’s natural resources.

Last year IUCN helped the NBCC undertake a Nadi Basin inventory which involved consultations among local communities and government agencies. This proved instrumental in developing a draft National Flood Policy which has broken new ground in achieving inter-agency coordination in Fiji’s water management.

Also in Fiji, WANI is working with communities on the island of Kadavu to restore watershed catchments through a partnership with the University of the South Pacific, an IUCN Member. A District Catchment Committee has been established to oversee the development of a more integrated approach to water management for the area. Village and district leaders have been trained in leadership and management skills. At the village level, training on native forest restoration has led to four villages creating their own nurseries, planting native species in degraded upper catchment areas, and reduced burning and grazing.

As in the Nadi Basin, the focus is on local level management of water resources, and in linking fresh water to the surrounding marine environment and coral reefs. This ridge-to-reef approach provides a cost-effective, integrated and sustainable water resource management approach that is transferable to other sites in Fiji, and elsewhere in the Pacific.

For more information contact:
IUCN Water Coordinator Oceania, Dr Milika Sobey, milika.sobey@iucn.org