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Enhancing hydrology capacity and flood early warning systems across the Pacific

Stream gauging undertaken by the Fiji Meteorological Service Hydrology Team. Image: Alluvium International.

The Pacific region is home to some of the most vulnerable nations in the world and is frequently impacted by hydro meteorological disasters, including flash flooding.

In response to this issue, the Pacific Community (SPC), in partnership with the Australian Water Partnership (AWP), has been working closely with governments and local communities towards a climate-resilient Pacific by increasing surface water hydrology capacity, with a focus on flash flood early warning systems.

SPC and AWP partnered in September 2021 to support the growth of the surface water hydrology capacity of local organisations to deal with flash flooding and improve their early warning systems through the Hydrology support for flash flood early warning systems project

Building on previous and current activities around early warning systems, this collaboration will also help SPC build internal capacity as well as re-establish connections with national hydrology institutions.

The project, specific to riverine flash flooding, will look at high volcanic islands with short steep catchments, which are vulnerable to flash flooding. The aim is to increase climate resilience guided by the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific (FRDP) and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

L-R: Jone Wainitasi (WAF), Jacqui Reid (SPC), Tom Stewart (SPC), Swastika Devi (FMS) and Sepesa Tikoinayau (FMS). Image: Alluvium International

Stakeholder engagement is key to the project’s success, helping to develop rapport and understanding around how it can support existing efforts, combine local knowledge with technical expertise, and formulate a fit-for-purpose framework for Pacific early warning systems.

Since the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions in January 2022, engagement with relevant stakeholders has increased significantly through:

  • A multi-stakeholder field assessment with the Fiji Meteorological Service (FMS) and Water Authority Fiji (WAF);
  • 23 stakeholder engagement activities with national hydrology bodies and organisations working in flash flood early warning systems across the Pacific;
  • An online regional workshop attended by 29 participants, including representatives from the National Hydrology Services of Samoa, Solomon Islands and Fiji and
  • An internal SPC workshop with representatives across divisions.

The field assessment with FMS and WAF supported the continued learning and development of staff, which included an improved awareness of how to access and interpret relevant hydrological and catchment information that, in turn, would support understanding of flash flood risk.

These efforts to address the hydrology capacity challenge have been well received.

Our region is at a critical stage to try and improve our early warning systems in order to provide our communities with as much information as possible to safeguard their livelihoods and also our national economies. So, we are very happy, as part of the hydrological community, to have this opportunity and to have another partner coming through, such as the Australian Water Partnership … to assist our hydrological community,” said  Malaki Iakopo, Director of the Water Resources Division, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) of Samoa.

The project also integrates Gender Equality, Disability and Social Inclusion (GEDSI) considerations, including the expertise and involvement of SPC’s Human Rights and Social Development division, which have enriched the perspective and project approach.

Moving forward, the project will continue liaising with relevant stakeholders, to assess and prioritise at-risk catchments and pilot the framework to improve flash floods early warning systems in at least two catchments.

This article is adapted from an Australian Water Partnership article