Fiji's vulnerability to climate change was tested throughout 2016 with cyclones, the most powerful being Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston on 20 January 2016. Winston was the strongest cyclone ever recorded in the history of Fiji or the South Pacific Basin. This category five cyclone left forty-four people dead and at least thirty-five thousand people homeless in Fiji (Fiji Sun Online 2016; Thackray 2016).
Recovery efforts have been slow. At the beginning of 2017, almost a year after Winston, tents were still being used in parts of Fiji for housing and for schools. The devastation has added not only to the Fiji government's ongoing financial burdens but also to its long-term responsibilities to mitigate the impacts of climate change in the country. Recently, changing weather patterns have produced new problems in Fiji requiring urgent solutions. For instance, after Winston destroyed so many buildings and homes, it was realized that most were structurally weak and unable to withstand such mega-storms.
From the colonial period on, a significant percentage of Fiji's population has remained in rural villages or, increasingly, on the peripheries of urban centers. But also since the colonial period, governments have had very little involvement in regulating where people live and the types of structures people occupy in these areas. This is partly a legacy of the colonial practice of "indirect rule," whereby Fijian chiefs ruled their people on behalf of the colonial administrators. Villagers were not really taught to develop their resources for economic benefit but rather continued to live subsistence or semi-subsistence lifestyles. This arrangement was still very much the same in 2016, but with some changes in the administrative system. Village bylaws did not include strict housing regulations. Those who have money to do so can build safe houses; others can only afford very basic shelters.
Nonindigenous and indigenous Fijians who wanted to live closer to urban areas but cannot afford to pay rent have ended up in squatter settlements around the peripheries. Housing in these areas often does not adhere to any government-approved standard (see Fiji Government 2011). However, increasing climate change–related emergencies such as cyclones and flooding have amplified the government's responsibility to implement new building standards to safeguard people from the devastating impacts of natural disasters.
While the Fiji government has been active in its attempt to help people to rebuild, perhaps the main challenge for its Climate Change Unit is to ensure that these new structures are able to withstand drastic cyclones and flooding. The Climate Change Unit has already relocated some villages [End Page 341] due to the direct impact of climate change in some areas in Fiji (Chandra 2015).
Another challenge, evolving since 1987, is linked with Fiji's political economy and stalled development issues due to recurring coups. Four coups in the small island state have had ongoing and long-term sociopolitical and economic impacts on the government's priorities. Each postcoup military government, from 1987 to 2006, has been concerned less with looking after people than with financially securing military rule through such policies as increasing the military budget (Durutalo 2016, 106). Development gaps exposed after the cyclone were partially filled by aid donors.
After Tropical Cyclone Winston, Fiji received initial international contributions for rebuilding from New Zealand and Australia. Despite her tough stand against these two neighbors following the 2006 military coup, Fiji readily accepted their aid packages, which included military personnel to help with the rebuilding. Additional assistance poured into Fiji from the international community including France, India, Japan, the People's Republic of China, the United States, and regional countries such as French Polynesia, Tonga, and Nauru. Assistance was also received from international financial institutions like the Asian Development Bank and international humanitarian organizations like the Red Cross (Fiji Government 2016).
The Red Cross has been particularly active in helping Fiji to rebuild, despite a shortage of builders and building materials. One year after Winston, Fiji Red Cross has helped seventy-seven thousand people with emergency needs. Besides rebuilding some of the schools destroyed by the storm, Fiji Red Cross has also "provided communities with clean water, emotional support to help people...