Fiji has suffered from increasing numbers of floods in recent years, causing extensive damage across the country. Through improving water governance, IUCN and partners are helping reduce the risks and impacts of flooding through linking urban centres to the basins they rely on.
In view of the workshop 'Managing Watersheds for Urban Resilience' at the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Global Platform in Geneva on May 12th, IUCN highlights one of its key projects on DRR work in the South Pacific, the Nadi Basin Catchment in Fiji:
Fiji is made up of more than 300 islands, the largest being Viti Levu, with concentrates urban populations in and around Suva and the Nadi tourist centre. Spanning an area of 517 km2 and supporting around 65,000 people, the Nadi River Basin is vital to Fiji. It hosts the country’s main tourism centre and international airport. Nadi Town is the third largest urban area in Fiji – supporting both the tourism industry and sugarcane farming industry, two important pillars of the Fijian economy.
A tropical depression caused heavy rainfalls in January 2009, considered to be the worst in 75 years. The Nadi River peaked at 8 meters above mean levels, flooding Nadi Town and other low lying areas, affecting local businesses, tourist resorts, farmlands and residents. Economic costs of the 2009 floods in Nadi were estimated to be around USD 75 million. Although floods are common in Fiji, flooding incidences have increased in recent decades, posing significant challenges to environmental management in the country.
Reducing the risk of flooding in Nadi requires improved economic and social development, upgraded land-use planning and catchment management approaches. Institutions and policies concerning land use planning in Nadi are fragmented, and this is hampering flood risk reduction efforts. Since the 1980s, sugar cane growers have expanded into the hills and onto steeper slopes, abandoning more sustainable practices such as contour farming.
Nadi Council and its Rural Local Authority are responsible for land-use planning, but many developments have been allowed that affect agricultural and urban drainage systems. Multiple government agencies are mandated to tackle rural and agricultural development, but their policies, plans and strategies are not harmonized and often remain unenforced, further exacerbating watershed degradation and contributing to excessive flooding.
To tackle these challenges, a Nadi Basin Catchment Committee (NBCC) has been established, supported by IUCN’s Water and Nature Initiative, and key regional partners working on improving water resource management through the Pacific IWRM Programme led by SOPAC. The NBCC includes key stakeholders, including Fiji Meteorological Services, the National Disaster Management Office, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Lands Department, and Nadi Town Council.
“The local media attention that the Nadi Basin project has received has generated much interest recently, and stakeholders in other large catchments -both locally and regionally- have expressed interest in the project being replicated in their areas. This is a promising signal and supports the upscaling of our project approach to other flooding prone regions in Fiji”, said Milika Sobey, IUCN Oceania Water Coordinator.
The Pacific IWRM Programme, together with IUCN Oceania Water Programme, is developing an approach that emphasizes policy and legislative reform and capacity development for effective Integreated Water Resource Management (IWRM) implementation. The NBCC in Nadi is working to demonstrate how improved governance arrangements, coupled with technological improvements and upgrades for flood warning, yields benefits for flood risk reduction, improved land and water management, and benefits for people and nature in the river basin.
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