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Home > Publications > Science Planning Group Reports > Science Plan on Hazards and Disasters: Islands

Science Plan on Hazards and Disasters: Special Vulnerability of Islands

Executive Summary of Science Plan on Hazards and Disasters: Special Vulnerability of Islands

The majority of the vast Asia-Pacific region is made up of tens of thousands of islands, ranging from tiny and remote islets to large and highly populated insular landmasses. The Asia-Pacific is also unique as within it lay all 5 of the world’s nations that are entirely atolls.

For various reasons, islands are inherently more vulnerable to natural hazards and disasters (H&D) than many continental or mainland areas. Physical influences include: the origin of island formation along active plate boundaries; the rugged highland interiors of volcanic islands which have unstable slopes; wet or very wet maritime climates with associated risk of cyclones (typhoons); the low elevation of small atoll and limestone islets which are at risk of inundation. Socio-economic factors which increase H&D vulnerability of many islands include their remoteness, isolation, inaccessibility, economic marginalisation and dependence on local resources. Some recent examples given for illustration are the earthquake (M 8.1) and resulting tsunami of April 2007 in Solomon Islands and the exceptional flooding produced by a cyclone in Fiji in January 2003.

All of the above mean that islands (and island communities) deserve special scientific attention in terms of assessing and monitoring hazard risk, understanding hazard impacts and longer-term effects, preparing for hazard occurrence, and implementing feasible disaster-adaptation programmes.

In response, several major areas for future research that should be given priority in the Asia-Pacific region are identified:

• Research into the behaviour and characteristics of tropical cyclones. This is because cyclones are associated with storm surge, coastal inundation, landslides and river flooding. Investigation should focus on changing patterns in storm development, occurrence, intensity, track movements, and their consequent impacts on island environments.
• Island river systems need better understanding. This can be achieved through increased monitoring and analysis of hydrological processes, especially to improve existing knowledge of island river responses to intense precipitation (leading to floods).
• Research on island steep lands is a third priority, in particular investigation of thresholds and processes in slope failure. This is due to the instability of steep slopes on volcanic islands in the Asia-Pacific region, together with the problem of earthquakes and large rainfall events that commonly trigger slope failure.
• Island adaptation to hazards and disasters deserves strategic attention, for better preparedness against hazards, and to reduce socio-economic losses after future hazard occurrence.

Related to these themes, a plan for scientific activity is presented, targeted
for the island territories and nations of the Asia-Pacific region.

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