Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Vanuatu heads up another list

A few years ago it was all the rage to say Vanuatu was the happiest place on earth.  This was according to the 2006 Happy Planet Index* which is not a measure of the happiness of the people per se, but of ecological foot-print, life-satisfaction and life-expectancy (or 'the ecological efficiency of supporting well-being').  

Now, according to a study by the German group Bundis Entwicklung Hilft, Vanuatu is at the top of another list. 

This list is the World Risk Index

That means of all the nations in the world, Vanuatu is most at risk from natural disaster. The index takes into account the exposure, vulnerability and susceptibility to natural disaster, and also the ability to cope and adapt when natural disaster strikes. Vanuatu is both highly prone to natural disaster (cyclone and earthquake, not to mention tsunami and volcanic eruption) but also has lacking of coping capacities. 

Australia is raked 119 (rankings begin on p64 of the report**). 

So how does a nation manage to be at the top of BOTH of those lists???????????

* You can download the 2009 Happy Planet Index report here, see a comparison of the 2006 and 2009 lists here.  Note that Vanuatu and other small countries were not included in the 2009 study.
** Download the World Risk Index here.


Little Em said...

Haha ;) That's the best. I wonder if they'll put that in all of the tourist brochures?!

Erin said...

Maybe resilience in the face of adversity adds to life satisfaction?

As a side note; not only did I grow up in the happiest place on earth, but also the most dangerous! :)

Anonymous said...

A month or so back two earthquakes strike Vanuatu, a 7.1 and a 7.4, no damage. TC Gene a few years back went through Fiji as a Cat 1 and to Vanuatu (Futuna) as a Cat 3. 1 or 2 people died in Fiji, none in Futuna, the southern island of Vanuatu. We have been through all these, we can cope. We also have an excellent warning system for Natural disasters here.

This is a kind of report you get when you have overpaid expatriate NGO people working in Vanuatu, writing reports that no one in Vanuatu reads except someone from another planet...

Rachael said...

Thanks "anonymous" for your comments. I appreciate hearing things from your point of view. Critical comments stimulate clear and deep thinking. My reply to your comment will go over a few comment boxes.

I absolutely agree that man Vanuatu is resourceful, strong and resilient in the face of adversity. He can cope with much that people from other places can't... and the report does not assess that sort of thing.

However, I don't agree with some of the other things you have said.

TC Gene (Feb 2008) was a devastating cyclone for Futuna. For the first time*, the Futunese people requested aid because they realised that they could not cope, especially with the food shortage and with rebuilding. Now, I don't know where all the aid came from on that occasion, whether it was supplied locally or whether foreign aid was sent. But my point is that the local community could not cope on its own. What if this had been a category 5 cyclone? What if it had hit Port Vila? The point of the report is to help us to realise that we are at risk of such events and to help us think about what we would do in such a situation.

Since TC Gene the people of Futuna have suffered from other cyclones, and it is becoming clearer that despite the best efforts of the National Disaster Management Office, and for various reasons, the Vanuatu Government is not able to supply relief. We need to face up to this and do something about it, not just say "we will cope".

Rachael said...

We might say, "but we will cope, we will get through this, eventually". We probably mean something different by the word “cope”. It’s not just about counting how many people did or didn’t die. It’s things like; how long will services like electricity and water and sewerage be off**; will there be adequate supplies of food; how long will re-building take; do we have the ability to cope with lots of sick and injured people?. I think that if back in May, months after the cyclones (Atu and Vania) at the beginning of this year, Futuna was still suffering food shortages and talking of closing schools (see http://www.dailypost.vu/content/futuna-food-crisis), then that does suggest we are finding it difficult to cope. If we were able to cope on our own, there wouldn’t have been a need to get aid from China, Australia, New Zealand and France.

Making comparisons of the number of dead in Vanuatu and Fiji is not very helpful because of the relative sizes of the populations in the areas affected by the cyclone. In Fiji the cyclone affected the main islands, including the capital, Suva (see http://reliefweb.int/node/256008). The islands affected in Vanuatu were outer islands with small populations.

About the two earthquakes that hit off the coast of Port-Vila in August (see http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/World/20110820/vanuatu-earthquakes-110820/) which caused no serious damage. They hit more than 60km off the coast. What if the epicentre had been on land, like the Haiti earthquake (7.0)? What would happen if the epicentre was close to Port Vila? What if it were magnitude 8? or 9?

Our hospital in Luganville is stretched when one truck full of people comes off the road. How would it cope if an earthquake shook dozens off the road? How would we cope if the hospital itself was seriously damaged? How would we get people to other hospitals?

Rachael said...

I agree that our warning system for cyclones is good. Our warning system for tsunamis has improved a lot over the last few years. But, to my knowledge, there is still no known warning system for earthquakes.

I agree that reports like this never take all the factors into account. But I do think we have to admit that Vanuatu is at risk from various natural disasters and we don't have all the necessary emergency and relief systems in place for a serious disaster. As Vanuatu develops more and more (whether we want it to or not) we need to take such things more seriously, not less.

I welcome your further comments to what I have said here, especially if I have misrepresented the situation. I don't mind it if you remain anonymous if that helps you to speak openly. But please, be respectful and refrain from personal insult.

* This information came from personal communication with a senior and respected "man Futuna" passing on the request of his people for help at that time.

** Services like electricity, water and sewerage are non-existent for most of Vanuatu, but the question is still an important one for the Port Vila and Luganville areas.