Fiji Emergency Response to Tropical Cyclone Winston

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When Category 5 tropical cyclone Winston struck Fiji in February 2016, almost 62 percent of the population was affected with losses estimated around 31 percent of national GDP.

The geographic location and structure of the Fiji islands and other South Pacific countries makes emergency response more complicated than in other isolated countries. Traditional logistics-based humanitarian responses with in-kind support to affected people, are not always the most effective solutions. Linking national social protection systems with emergency humanitarian assistance and using different transfer modalities, including cash and voucher, can be an effective way to ensure relief to families in need.

The Fiji Government’s response to tropical cyclone Winston helped to bridge the historical divide between externally-led emergency responses and nationally-led long-term development programmes.

Fiji’s lessons learned on emergency response serves as an inspiration for other countries in the region and will be shared with the wider Pacific community, through a Pacific Regional Social Protection and Emergency Response Workshop. WFP has expressed willingness to facilitate such an initiative, also in view of supporting Fiji and other governments in the Pacific community through South-South learning on emergency preparedness and response.

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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). In the past few decades, Fiji has been affected by multiple devastating cyclones. Category 5 tropical cyclone Winston struck Fiji on February 20, 2016 with sustained winds of up to 230 km/h. This was one of the most violent storms ever registered in the Southern Hemisphere. The cyclone-related losses were estimated at USD 1.38 billion (31 percent of GDP), with a total of 44 victims. 30,369 houses, 495 schools, and 88 health clinics and medical facilities were damaged or destroyed. With essential services severely disrupted, and food crops and other vegetation crushed, the livelihoods of 60 percent of the population were compromised. Initial estimates of the humanitarian impact of tropical cyclone Winston indicated significant devastation over 12 geographical areas, and 40,000 people requiring immediate assistance with food, shelter, water supply and sanitation, and health services.

Responding to emergencies is tremendously complicated in Fiji and other South Pacific countries, with their 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. When assistance has to be delivered to people in need as fast as possible, there are other more cost-efficient or effective alternative ways to consider

Fiji became the first Pacific country to channel both government and external partners’ post-disaster assistance through its existing social protection system. This 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 WFP.

The target groups of the humanitarian assistance were primarily those most vulnerable to the cyclone’s impact: in particular existing beneficiaries of the government’s social assistance and insurance programmes.

Fiji’s social protection system built on the following components for the response to tropical cyclone Winston:

a. Scaling up cash transfers
The government topped up cash payments to existing beneficiaries of three 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. This was unusual because, in Pacific Island countries, emergency assistance has typically been in-kind. The cash assistance helped mitigate the disaster’s impact on Fiji’s most vulnerable citizens, and injected much-needed cash into the local economy.

b. Topping up food assistance
In collaboration with the Department for Social Welfare, WFP topped up the Government’s existing 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.

c. Distributing housing vouchers
The Department of Social Welfare provided housing vouchers to assist severely impacted lower-income families to rebuild homes.

Photo credit to WFP/Francesca Ciardi


Government of Fiji , United Nations Flash Appeal , Australia , Canada , European Commission , Germany , Belgium , Lithuania , New Zealand , Sweden , United States , United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund

Government of Fiji , WFP

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