Coping with floods in urban Fiji: responses and resilience of the poor
Introduction In January 2009 Fiji faced its worst floods since 1931 with 400 mm of rain falling in two days, leaving a dozen people dead and more than 10,000 people displaced. The floods destroyed crops and infrastructure, and spread the risk of disease. In rural areas, the severe economic impact of the floods was well understood. This chapter will demonstrate that in urban areas the picture was less clear, partly due to the marginalization of the urban poor. Many urban squatters live on degraded coastal land and river flood plains, which are exposed to severe and rapid floods. We will argue that, while the urban poor are very vulnerable to the impacts of disaster, including death, illness and loss of their homes, they are not necessarily without coping strategies. The common perception that traditional ways of dealing with disaster through kinship networks and food security are lost may well be a myth. Using examples from informal settlements on the main island, Viti Levu, we will illustrate that Fiji’s urban poor do have ways of coping with vulnerability, disaster and hardship caused by major environmental change. We will discuss the implications of natural disasters for urban settlements, and outline urban planning strategies for disaster prevention in the future.