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What difference does disaster risk reduction make? Insights from Vanuatu and tropical cyclone Pam

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Donors, governments, non-government organisations and humanitarian agencies are increasingly investing in disaster risk reduction (DRR) but there is limited understanding of the outcomes of these investments at community and household levels. This paper presents empirical data from nine communities across three islands in Vanuatu that experienced a direct hit from category 5 tropical cyclone Pam in 2015. The research compared the actions taken by communities that had engaged in a mid- to long-term DRR program with those that had not. The DRR program prioritised disability inclusion and women’s participation in, and leadership of, the community. Early warnings were widely heard across all communities but the communities that had engaged with the DRR program had greater understanding of, and trust in, the early warnings. They took earlier and more coordinated action and were safer during the cyclone. Compared with their past experiences, there was increased respect for women’s voices and roles, women and men collaborated more, and people with disability were supported by the whole community. The research concludes that tropical cyclone early warnings are necessary but not sufficient to ensure there is community and household preparation. There is a strong case for investments in mid- to long-term DRR focused on community and household capacity, prioritising women’s active and equal participation as community leaders, and disability inclusion.

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The author would like to thank the people of Aniwa, Erromango and Tanna who gave their time and shared their insights during the research. The Tafea Provincial Government and the Government of Vanuatu also contributed to the research. The staff from CARE International in Vanuatu that supported and implemented the research were professional and a pleasure to work with. Megan Chisholm and Charlie Damon from CARE International in Vanuatu were instrumental in the research design and also gave comments on drafts. The author would like to thank Tricia Wilden, Edward Boydell and particularly Dr Johanna Nalau for review and advice. The staff from CARE International in Vanuatu (Isaac Savua, Julia Marango, Marie Toto, Mala Silas, Sandra Sila, Eddy Maliliu, John Bill Charley) were professional and a pleasure to work with.


The DRR interventions studied were implemented by CARE International in Vanuatu and were jointly funded by the European Commission Humanitarian Office (ECHO), the Australian Government and the Australian public. The research was funded by CARE International in Vanuatu.

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Correspondence to Julie Webb.

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Communicated by Jamie Pittock



In the 3 years leading up to TC Pam, a DRR program was implemented with all the communities across the islands of Aniwa and Erromango. The program aimed to build household and community capacity in DRR, and it included activities that aimed at increasing women’s participation in, and leadership of, the CDCCCs and social inclusion. A standard package of activities was implemented in all the communities in both Aniwa and Erromango (Appendix).

When implementing the DRR program across Aniwa and Erromango, the standardised NDMO guidance about the roles and responsibilities of the CDCCC and the community Disaster Response Plan was used. The program went beyond this guidance, however, to require working towards equal representation of women on the CDCCC, and it implemented specific activities to support this. For example, CDCCC and community-wide training in inclusive approaches was provided, and mentoring was offered for the women that took on roles in the CDCCC to give them additional support in leadership and confidence.

Table 2 Disaster risk reduction program activities in Aniwa and Erromango

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Webb, J. What difference does disaster risk reduction make? Insights from Vanuatu and tropical cyclone Pam. Reg Environ Change 20, 20 (2020).

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  • Climate change adaptation
  • Cyclone Pam
  • Disaster risk reduction
  • Gender
  • Resilience
  • Vanuatu