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Fiji: After the rain stops, flood damage will continue to affect islanders

Cameron McFarlane's picture

The flooding has resulted in mass cancellation of tourist travel plans, which will flow through to job losses, business failures and ultimately affect families already suffering from the direct impact of the floods.
Last week, a tropical depression hit Fiji's main island of Viti Levu and caused a rise in sea levels along with torrential rain and devastating flooding. Flooding in and around the towns of Nadi, Lautoka, Ba, Raki Raki and Sigatoka ensued. Several days later a second tropical depression dumped further rain on areas already affected. As of Thursday, the rain was still falling and flood waters continued to rise.

So far, at least 11 people have been reported killed, from drowning and mudslides, though given the isolation of many villages, this number is probably much understated.

As would be expected the immediate impact is widespread damage to infrastructure. Homes, public buildings and businesses have been destroyed with around 10,000 people living in evacuation centres. Roads and bridges have been washed away effectively cutting off access for emergency workers and rescue teams. Electricity and water supplies have been cut and food supplies destroyed, washed away or still underwater.

(Read personal accounts from bloggers affected by the flooding in Fiji.)

Whilst the immediate impact is hard on those affected, there are also medium- and long-term effects. In the capital we notice that food supplies have dropped dramatically and prices of fresh produce have tripled. Supply of fresh fish has all but disappeared. Destruction of roads and bridges will make it difficult or impossible for isolated villages to get access to the towns. The cost of restoring infrastructure will strain already tight government budgets.

Health warnings appear in the newspaper against typhoid, leptospirosis, dengue and scabies. Schools, which were due to reopen after the Christmas break, will stay closed for at least one more week.

Two of Fiji's major contributors to the economy – tourism and sugar – have been very badly affected. Sugar cane fields are underwater and at risk of total loss. Bridges used to transport cane have been washed away and refineries are flooded. Impacts to this industry particularly affect the poor – farmers and cane workers.

The flooding has resulted in mass cancellation of travel plans by tourists. This will flow through to job losses, business failures and ultimately affect families already suffering from the direct impact of the floods.

The heavy floods in Fiji have come at a time when the country is struggling to recover from the adverse impacts of the military coup in December 2006 and high global food and fuel prices for the most part of 2008, as well as weathering the recent slowdown in the global economy. Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was estimated to have grown by a modest 1 percent in 2008 while (pre-flood) growth forecast for 2009 is at 2 percent. Annual inflation eased to 7.7 percent in December 2008 as global fuel prices abated, but inflation is likely to rise again due to supply disruptions from the recent flood. These shocks will add strain to declining foreign reserves, which are already at low levels, and exacerbate the underlying structural problems in Fiji's economy.

Image credit: nickerson at Flickr under a Creative Commons license.