Floods test Honiara’s resilience plans

Source(s): United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - Regional Office for Asia and Pacific
Honiara City Mayor Andrew Mua directs the flood response from the Council Chamber window moments before pausing to chair a meeting of the municipality's Disaster Committee. (Photo: Tejas Patnaik/UNISDR)

Honiara City Mayor Andrew Mua directs the flood response from the Council Chamber window moments before pausing to chair a meeting of the municipality's Disaster Committee. (Photo: Tejas Patnaik/UNISDR)

HONIARA, Solomon Islands, 2 March 2018 – Less than 24 hours after Honiara launched a major review of its disaster resilience planning, heavy rain and flash floods provided an immediate test of the city’s preparedness.

Honiara Mayor Andrew Leonard Mua OBE activated the Emergency Operations Centre as water cascaded down from the highlands above the city, flooding storm water drains, creeks and several roads.

With floodwaters rising, the Mayor told the City’s Disaster Committee – comprising heads of departments, the National Disaster Management Office and police – of the need for quick and informed action.

“It is imperative that we quickly understand the extent of the floods and the areas most affected so that we know what needs to be done and where,” the Mayor said.

Sitting in the council chamber, under the Honiara City crest and accompanying motto ‘To lead is to serve’, the Mayor dispatched rapid assessment teams with a brief to report back in six hours.

As a priority, the teams were told to identify clinics that were open and accessible as well as schools that could operate as evacuation centres in the event the situation deteorated.

The Solomon Islands Broadcasting Company (SIBC) reported widespread disruption. Many businesses were unable to open because staff could not get to work. Similarly schools were badly hit as teachers and students were unable to get to their class.

On a positive note, SIBC also told of several spontaneous acts of community self-help: At major junctions, in the absence of traffic police who were responding elsewhere, groups of young people stood knee-high in water directing traffic.

The Solomon Islands Meteorological Service said that 171mm of rain fell in a five and a half hour period in the morning. By late afternoon, as the deluge stopped, the situation stabilized and floodwaters began to recede.

For a time, the event provoked memories of the devastating April 2014 floods in the Solomon Islands capital, population 85,000 people.

That disaster caused 22 deaths and more than $100 million in direct economic losses, approximately 10% of national GDP. 10,000 people were displaced after the Mataniko River burst its banks.

The Honiara City Disaster Committee convened in the same room where, the previous day, 30 senior officials and representatives from the municipality, national ministries and various other groups had met to assess the level of urban resilience.

The forum used UNISDR’s Disaster Resilience Scorecard to begin rating the status of risk reduction in 10 essential areas.

Honiara is one of 20 cities taking part in a UNISDR programme to support municipalities to develop and implement disaster risk reduction action plans. The work in the Solomon Islands is being supported by ICLEI, the Local Governments for Sustainability network.

The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 highlights the critical importance of such resilience planning. Local and national DRR strategies are a key enabler for cities and countries to reduce disaster losses and risk. The Sendai Framework sets achieving this target (e) by 2020 as its most immediate deadline.

The Making Cities Resilient DRR Action Planning programme is supported by the European Commission. The other 19 cities taking part are: Kampala, Uganda; Dire-Dawa, Ethiopia; Kisumu, Kenya; Yaounde, Cameroon; Praia, Cabo Verde; Khartoum, Sudan; Ismaliya Governorate, Egypt; Nablus, State of Palestine; Nouakchott, Mauritania; Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia; Kathmandu City, Nepal; Dhaka North City Corporation, Bangladesh; Cilacap Regency, Indonesia; Mawlamyine, Myanmar; Tegucigalpa, Honduras; Guayaquil, Ecuador; San Juan de Lurigancho, Peru; Guatemala City, Guatemala; and Santo Domingo Esto, Dominican Republic.

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