Cyclone Harold inspires new way to collect data for disaster assessments

Suva | 1 October 2020 



In April 2020, Tropical Cyclone Harold slammed into the Pacific causing widespread damage across the region. Harold impacted four countries, Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, and Tonga. Large seas whipped up by TC Harold winds caused a boating tragedy in the Solomon Islands and the loss of 27 lives.

To understand Harold’s impact in Fiji, the Government requested support from the Pacific Community (SPC) to carry out a Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA). This was done in partnership with the Fiji Meteorological Service (FMS) and focused on the collection of data including wind, storm surge, and wave driven inundation information.

The data helped understand the impact of disaster whilst providing critical information to inform how future disasters may affect coastal communities in Fiji.

Good data assists in the development of more informed weather forecasting into the future to ensure vulnerable communities are warned before disaster strikes. This helps ensure communities can prepare better for such disasters and helps reduce the risk of damage to properties & infrastructure, protecting food gardens and more importantly preventing the loss of human life. 

The SPC and FMS team visited 27 sites across the main island of Fiji including 17 hotels and 9 separate villages to assess the impacts.

To support easier collection and understanding of this information, SPC’s Capacity Building for the Hazard and Exposure Database for the Pacific Catastrophe Risk Assessment and Financing Initiative (PCRAFI) Project developed exposure and hazard impact survey templates. These templates help standardise data collection and allows countries to collect the information that provides a clearer understanding of the impact caused by disasters to inform a better and more prepared response into the future.

PCRAFI Project Manager, Eileen Turare said, “Developing standard attributes for the region allows our countries to also improve the accuracy of impact models, which for this case is used to underpin the PCRAFI Insurance program that some countries are part of. However, the data collected through the use of these survey templates also serves the purpose of other ministries and agencies to inform their respective planning and development agendas.  The exercise allowed the team to test the feasibility of the template, and review and improve where needed”, she added.

Survey Team leader, Zulfi Begg said the templates developed are clear, easy-to-use and were well received by the Fiji team,

“You don’t have to be a scientist or a technical person because the templates define what attributes (damage) to measure. This helps when conducting surveys and, in the future, others who are keen will find it easier to use the templates.

The inundation impact assessment was made possible through funding from the PCRAFI and Pacific Resilience Programme (PREP) projects implemented by SPC. The analysis of the data collected will take a few weeks before coastal flooding models are developed which will then inform Fiji’s early warning systems into the future.

The survey team was deployed during the midst of the global COVID-19 shutdown. All safety precautions were taken to protect the health of our teams and the communities during this assessment period. Strict occupational health and safety guidelines were observed by the survey team in line with the Ministry of Health’s guidelines and interaction outside the survey team was kept to a minimum during the data collection phase.

TC Harold Background:
Cyclone Harold first hit Solomon Islands with a Category 1 rating on 2-3 April 2020, before progressing to Vanuatu, on 5 April, where it caused widespread damage escalating to category four.  Harold then moved on to impact the southern part of Fiji, between 4-8 April, and strengthened to Category five (the most severe rating) hitting early on 9 April where there was reported severe damage from coastal inundation.