Vanuatu and Climate Change: How The Most At-risk Country in the World Addresses the Challenge
Vanuatu rarely makes the headlines. Can you even locate us on a map? Yet, the world should pay attention, because we have a head start dealing with the climate crisis – and if you learn from us, maybe we can better tackle the worst impacts of climate change, together.
When Tropical Cyclone Harold, a category 5 cyclone with winds of 270 km per hour, hit northern Vanuatu in April 2020, we thought we were ready. I’m a business owner and the Chair of the Vanuatu Business Resilience Council (VBRC), a business federation coordinating disaster preparedness and response by the private sector. But I wasn’t prepared for the level of devastation we witnessed.
Torrential rains led to landslides and flash flooding, leaving behind extensive damage. Up to 90% of families lost their houses in hardest-hit areas, and 60% of croplands were destroyed, compromising food security nationwide.
Because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, international support was limited. We had to step up. My colleague Millie, through her company, 3 Link Satellite communication, provided connectivity to cut-off areas. We mobilized local boats and logistical resources to deliver emergency food and shelter to remote islands.
Our experience running businesses in challenging rural contexts allowed us to find efficient and practical solutions. This crystalised the key role local businesses can play, alongside civil society and governments, to respond, mitigate, and adapt to rising climate risks. This can serve as an inspiration worldwide, from Florida to Venice.
How Vanuatu addresses climate change challenges: the key role of local businesses
In 2021, Vanuatu was ranked the most at-risk country in the world, so taking an innovative, proactive, whole-of-society approach towards climate resilience isn’t just an ideal. It’s what we have to do for companies to stay in business, and for our country’s survival.
Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) – the backbone of the economy – are the most impacted by climate-related disasters. In Vanuatu, these are village shops selling essential foods and household items, small boat services linking people from village to village, small-sized hotels providing jobs to our youth, and farmers selling their food crops to urban centres.
This has profound economic implications. The current rate of sea-level rise, for example, is already eroding jetties and wharves used by small boats that deliver food to local villages. However, while local businesses are among the most impacted, they’re also the first to respond to increasing needs.
That’s why the Vanuatu Business Resilience Council has joined the UN’s Connecting Business initiative, which engages with the private sector strategically before, during, and after emergencies. Our projects include local business continuity training, supporting a humanitarian response when needed, and mid-term recovery programmes. We aren’t only supporting the private sector, but empowering it to fulfill its role as a leader in climate action, building climate resilience in our communities.
With adequate support, innovative technologies for mitigation and adaptation – currently unavailable simply because of logistics and costs – could become the norm. For example, we partnered with Oxfam and used blockchain technologies to provide cash transfers in remote areas, and we’re working with the Government to use that same cutting-edge technology to offer incentives for COVID-19 vaccinations.
We can do all this thanks to the flexibility and logistical capacity of our local business networks.