Climate change is the most pressing
ecological crisis impacting the Pacific region.
The Pacific Islands are particularly vulnerable to climate change with small, low-lying, and geographically dispersed islands and coastal communities exposed to changing weather patterns and systems. Rising sea levels, coastal erosion, the loss of coral reefs, and an increased intensity of extreme weather events are acutely felt in the Pacific.
Storm surges pose the risk of increasing saltwater infiltration into freshwater supplies, limiting the availability of fresh water for drinking, crops, and plants.
Irregular rainfall and increased flooding in low lying and coastal areas can result in unstable patterns of food production, which may affect food security, diet, and income generating activities. These climate related challenges profoundly impact communities, their wellbeing, their livelihoods, and their local environment.
Vanuatu has recently experienced the impact of climate change. Cyclones Judy and Kevin hit the country within days of each other, causing widespread devastation and destruction. Mary O’Reilly, Volunteer Service Abroad Programme Manager in Vanuatu, explains that one of the most devastating effects of the cyclones has been the loss of crops and gardens.
“Crops provide vital food supply for the whole country. It takes at least six weeks before island cabbage, pawpaw, and bananas will return, while other seasonal crops will take much longer to grow.”
This destruction has wide-ranging implications, including exacerbating malnutrition rates, and eradicating incomes, particularly for women who rely on selling produce at local markets.
The financial implications are far-reaching, with some families unable to afford the costs of rebuilding their homes or replacing household items destroyed in the cyclone. Paying school fees becomes a luxury that some families are unable to afford, contributing to an increase in school dropout rates and out-of-school children. The long-term financial stress from this environmental disaster is significant and is likely to contribute to ongoing economic, social and health challenges for families and communities.
For Volunteer Service Abroad, the impacts of the climate crises also pose a significant threat to our vision of a world of thriving communities. For communities to thrive in the face of climate change, they need to be prepared for disaster and respond quickly when disaster arrives. Communities also need to recover from disaster in meaningful, locally led, and sustainable ways.
Volunteers play a vital role in helping communities to adapt to the devastating impacts of the climate crisis.
Looking ahead, Volunteer Service Abroad will continue to support communities throughout the Pacific to mitigate the impacts of climate change through volunteer assignments that assist partners to design more sustainable uses of land, forests, sea, energy, and transportation.
Our volunteers will also continue to support community preparedness to, and recovery from, climate-related natural disasters. Volunteering offers an important way to strengthen locally led climate-related efforts and climate change initiatives throughout the Pacific.