Putting knowledge into action: Wallis and Futuna leads in disaster preparedness with support from SPC and the European Union
A moving closing ceremony took place on 2 August in Mata ‘Utu. It celebrated achievements made possible through a two-year partnership between the European Union (EU), the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the French territory of Wallis and Futuna. The three institutions brought together their comparative assets to deliver an integrated programme to reinforce the safety of people and infrastructure against natural disasters.
Wallis and Futuna, like its Pacific neighbours, is facing costly natural disasters: it is still reeling from the devastation brought by Cyclone Evan in December 2012, and the impacts of the Tonga earthquake and tsunami in September 2009 (not to mention a previous tsunami in 1993) are still being felt.
Recognising that knowledge is key to disaster planning, the government led by the Administrateur Supérieur commissioned a study of the tsunami hazard faced by the entire territory, including the islands of Wallis, Futuna and Alofi. This study, facilitated by SPC with technical inputs from regional research institutes NIWA*, IRD** and the University of Sydney, shed light on the actual tsunami risk faced by the territory. Different tsunami scenarios were investigated, allowing the identification of key zones at risk, reaction time available to the authorities before the tsunami hits, and maximum inundation height.
These data proved critical to enhancing the territory’s preparedness for tsunamis, but also for a range of natural hazards. The government is investigating new evacuation routes and shelters based on the maps produced. It overhauled its crisis communication system to ensure it is functional when all else fails; in addition it improved its alert system with the installation of additional tsunami sirens and signage in strategic areas. The government also led a review of all disaster response plans – now fully updated – with a focus on its tsunami preparedness plan. Finally, it redoubled its efforts in raising the awareness of communities regarding disasters and improving their capacity to manage crises locally. These efforts stand to significantly benefit the safety of Wallisians and Futunians and the security of coastal infrastructure in the face of disasters – a goal the three partners never lost sight of during the past two years.