Protecting flood-prone Fiji

09 May 2011 | Project description

In Fiji which has suffered from increasing numbers of floods in recent years, causing extensive damage across the country, poor land management is seen as the leading cause.

Fiji is made up of more than 300 islands, the largest being Viti Levu, with concentrated urban populations in and around Suva the capital and Nadi the tourist centre).

Spanning an area of 512 km2 and supporting around 51,000 people, the Nadi Catchment Basin is vital to Fiji. It hosts the country’s main tourism centre and only international airport. Nadi is the third largest conurbation in Fiji and along with sugarcane farming, tourism is the mainstay of the economy.

Before the 1980s, responsible farming was common across the country’s sugar region, involving the use of contour farming and planting a particular grass species to control soil erosion. Cane access roads and water drainage systems were generally well maintained which, combined with good farming practices, allowed easy rainfall run-off and discharge through the Nadi rivers.

Following the signing of the Lome Convention in 1975 which gave Fiji preferential access to European markets and at prices approximately two to three times higher than the global sugar market, sugarcane farms expanded into the hills and onto steeper slopes. Since the 1987 coup, the drainage systems have not been maintained, farming practices have deteriorated and there have been more floods.

Heavy rainfall in January 2009, dumping 200-300mm of rain in less than a day, caused the worst flooding in 75 years. The Nadi River peaked at around eight metres, flooding Nadi Town and other low lying areas, affecting local businesses, tourist resorts, farmers, and local residents. Economic costs of the floods in Nadi Town alone were estimated to be $FJ 130 million.

Many of the people and businesses affected did not have insurance coverage to offset the losses and have struggled to recover. Many businesses were unable to reopen. Although flooding takes place regularly in the country, the incidence of flooding has increased in recent decades, posing significant challenges for the country.

Reducing the risk of flooding in Nadi Town needs improved economic and social development, proper land-use planning and catchment management. Institutions and policies concerning land use planning in Nadi and elsewhere in the country are fragmented and this is hampering flood risk reduction efforts.

Urban land-use planning lies in the remit of the Nadi Town Council and Nadi Rural Local Authority, but many developments have been allowed that have affected drainage systems.

To tackle these challenges, a Nadi Basin Coordinating Committee (NBCC) has recently been established under involving IUCN’s Water and Nature Initiative project. It includes key stakeholders, including the Fiji Meteorological Services; the National Disaster Management Office; Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Lands Department; and the Nadi Town Council. The project is developing a ‘Ridge to Reef – Community to Catchment’ approach that emphasizes policy and legislative reform.