Fishing-dependent communities in Fiji experienced decreased food security and loss of livelihoods in the wake of Cyclone Winston, according to a post-disaster survey conducted by the WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).
In addition to severely impacting the lives of 40 percent of Fiji’s population, the storm also caused nearly $1.5 million in damage to boats and fishing equipment vital to the livelihoods and dietary needs of coastal communities. A post-disaster survey led by WCS at the request of Fiji’s Ministry of Fisheries revealed that consumption of fresh fish in many communities has drastically decreased as a result of the damage caused by the cyclone.
The report titled, Impact of Tropical Cyclone Winston on Fisheries-Dependent Communities in Fiji, is the result of recent efforts by WCS and its Fiji-based partners to gauge the impact of the storm on communities most reliant on fishing and to inform national rehabilitation and recovery efforts.
“It seems that the damage to fishing infrastructure in many villages has greatly reduced the ability of these communities to secure the marine resources on which they previously depended,” said Dr. Sangeeta Mangubhai, Country Director of the WCS-Fiji Program. “What needs to follow is a recovery program that helps fishers and communities use low-impact fishing gear that will enable them to fish for subsistence. Additionally, there must be a reduction or halt on the distribution of commercial licenses for fishing at inshore coral reefs, seagrass and mangrove habitats that were severely damaged by the cyclone. At these sites, communities will need alternative livelihoods to give their reefs a fighting chance of recovery.”
Between the months of April and May, researchers from WCS, the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Area Network, University of the South Pacific, the Coral Reef Alliance, and Global Volunteers International surveyed 154 villages that were directly in the path of Cyclone Winston when it made landfall on February 20, 2016. A survey distributed among the affected communities indicated a dramatic decrease in the availability of fresh fish. Instead of eating freshly caught fish six times a week, many coastal households saw their fish consumption drop to less than 2.5 times a week. In Lomaiviti—the province that suffered the highest degree of storm-related damage to fishing gear, freezers, and other equipment—community members could barely manage one meal of fish per week.
Coastal communities are also struggling to supply fresh fish to their local schools. The percentage of villages providing fresh fish to schools on Moturkiri Island dropped from 100 to 30 percent; on Koro Island, where previously 60 percent of all villages supplied fish for schools, the percentage of contributing villages dropped to zero.
The report presents a ranking system that helps to identify those communities most in need. It will be used to inform a targeted recovery plan based on the criteria of a community’s ability to restore its livelihoods and fishing activities, and its dependency on fisheries. Some of the recommendations generated by the survey include:
“The data generated by the survey will help government, NGOs and development agencies direct assistance and resources to communities, depending on their degree of need, in a manner that ensures transparency,” added Mangubhai. “It will also help us to restore livelihoods and fisheries in a way that protects the natural resources needed for future stability.”
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