Fiji’s Response to Tropical Cyclone Winston

March 17, 2019
Challenge The Republic of the Fiji Islands, situated in the South Pacific Ocean, is composed of an archipelago of 332 islands (of which approximately 110 are inhabited). Over the past few decades, Fiji has been affected by multiple devastating cyclones. On 20 February 2016, Category 5 tropical cyclone Winston struck Fiji, this being considered one of the most violent storms ever registered in the Southern Hemisphere. The cyclone-related losses were estimated at US$1.38 billion (31 per cent of GDP), with a total of 44 victims; 30,369 houses, 495 schools and 88 health clinics and medical facilities were damaged or destroyed; and 40,000 people required immediate assistance with food, shelter, water supply, sanitation and health services.1 Responding to emergencies is tremendously complicated in Fiji and other South Pacific countries, due to the multitude of scattered islands, isolated populations and high vulnerability to extreme events associated with climate variability and changes. The traditional logistics-based response of bringing in food to distribute to affected people is no longer the only solution. Linking national social protection systems with emergency humanitarian assistance and using different transfer modalities, including cash and vouchers, can help to improve the food security of thousands of families. Towards a Solution Fiji became the first Pacific country to channel both government and external partners’post- disaster assistance through its existing social protection system. This practice demonstrated the benefits of nationally owned, shock-responsive social protection systems in times of crisis. The Fiji National Disaster Management Office led the response with all national government- led clusters activated and with support from the international community, including the World Food Programme (WFP). Fiji’s social protection system methodology is built on the following components for the response to tropical cyclone Winston:
  • Scaling up cash transfers: The Government topped up cash payments to beneficiaries of national welfare schemes. Within a month of the cyclone, all beneficiaries received a lump sum top-up cash transfer, equivalent to approximately three months’ worth of normal payments. The cash assistance helped to mitigate the disaster’s impact on Fiji’s most vulnerable citizens and injected much-needed cash into the local economy.
  • Topping up food assistance: In collaboration with the Department for Social Welfare, WFP topped up the Government’s food voucher scheme. This intervention helped approximately 72,000 social assistance beneficiaries in 12 critically affected areas. The Government’s database and mechanisms were used, and distribution was sequenced to follow the Government’s top-up cash payments.
  • Distributing housing vouchers: The Department of Social Welfare provided housing vouchers to assist severely impacted lower-income families in rebuilding homes..
The effectiveness and validation of Fiji’s social protection efforts after the cyclone have been supported by the World Bank’s impact evaluation report, which explained that the use of the shock-responsive component of the Government’s social protection schemes in Fiji was rapidly implemented and clearly targeted through the existing social safety nets databases and helped affected families to cope with the impacts of tropical cyclone Winston. Households acted responsibly, and the top-up payments were put to good use, helping beneficiaries to recover faster. As a part of South-South cooperation efforts to share Fiji’s successful practice, a workshop was organized in Suva, Fiji in September 2016 with the aim of bringing together stakeholders involved at different levels in the joint emergency response to tropical cyclone Winston. Approximately 35 stakeholders participated in the workshop, including donors, government agencies, NGOs, multilateral organizations, United Nations agency representatives, and WFP experts from the WFP Fiji Country Office and the WFP Asia-Pacific Regional Bureau. Participants of this workshop felt that the lessons from Fiji’s experience would benefit the wider Pacific community and proposed sharing them through a Pacific Regional Social Protection and Emergency Response Workshop involving different countries from the Pacific community. WFP expressed the willingness to facilitate such an initiative, with a view to supporting Fiji and other governments in the Pacific community through South-South learning on emergency response and preparedness. By building on governments’ existing social protection systems in times of crisis, WFP can help to strengthen national capacities and broker South-South cooperation in order to equip countries to meet their population’s humanitarian and development needs. Promoting shock-responsive social protection can, therefore, help to bridge the divide that has historically existed between externally led emergency responses and nationally led development programmes with a long-term focus. As regards replicability, in order for a country to effectively use its social protection system to respond to a crisis, the country must have a strong social protection system, with shock-responsive measures already in place. The Government of Fiji and WFP collaborated to provide detailed guidance on specific operational procedures that should be in place to ensure the effective delivery of a crisis response through social protection systems. These procedures highlight the importance of:
  • the development of standby agreements and standard operating procedures with potential stakeholders and clear definitions of roles, responsibilities and timeframes;
  • high quality emergency assessments and vulnerability analysis, and a diversity of assistance modalities and delivery mechanisms;
  • training of pre-selected local surge staff;
  • the development of an M&E strategy.
Sustainable Development Goal target(s): 1.3, 2.1 2.2 17.9 Contact:
  • Mr. Mulugeta Handino, Social Protection and Cash-Based Transfers Consultant (EPR), Asia-Pacific Bureau, WFP,
  • Ms. Shadiyana Begum, Cash-Based Transfers and Social Safety Nets officer, WFP Fiji,
  • Ms. Carola Kenngott, South-South Cooperation Focal Point, WFP,
Countries/ territories involved: Fiji, Pacific Countries Supported by: WFP Implementing entities: The Government of the Republic of Fiji, Fiji National Disaster Management Office; the Ministry of Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation), Department of Social Welfare with support from WFP. Project status: Completed Project period: March 2016- May 2016 URL of the practice: