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Inside Vanuatu’s Resilience Revolution: A Blueprint for Small Island States


Meriam Nemeriango, a teacher at Nuakwanapou Primary School in Vanuatu, stands in front of a World Bank supported school cyclone shelter.  (C) Hamish Wyatt/World Bank


  • Vanuatu faces some of the most severe risks from climate change in the world. Increasingly frequent cyclones pose serious threats to lives, infrastructure, and the economy.
  • Over a decade of partnership, the World Bank and the Government have worked together to build resilience by strengthening skills and building institutions. This has focused on geohazard monitoring, establishing a national multi-hazard warning center, and investing in resilient infrastructure such as schools that also serve as life saving shelters.
  • Now Vanuatu has become a leader in geohazard monitoring and with World Bank assistance has created a world class National Advisory Board for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change. Future work between the Government and the World Bank include initiatives to integrate disaster risk management into urban planning and enhance resilience by improving services in informal settlements.

Over the course of 10 years of partnership, the World Bank has supported efforts by the government of Vanuatu to build the skills and institutions it needs to deal with the many volcanic eruptions and earthquakes it is prone to as well as the increasingly frequent and severe cyclones. This collaboration and institutional strengthening with one of the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries could serve as a model for other small island states as climate impacts worsen around the world.

Committed local experts leading the way

The World Bank has been working in Vanuatu since the 1980s. Over the past decade, much of its work there has focused on disaster risk management, including building on the geohazard monitoring work that Dr. Esline Garaebiti began back in 1997.

Dr. Garaebiti, one of the first female geoscientists in the Pacific and a recipient of a Women’s International Network for Disaster Risk Reduction Leadership Award, is the Director General of Vanuatu’s Ministry of Climate Change. Born on a volcanic island, Esline discovered her passion for earth science as an undergraduate. In 1997, she joined a French organization implementing Vanuatu’s first geohazard monitoring. She then become the geohazards manager for the government of Vanuatu before assuming her current post, in 2020.

Tevi Obed is the World Bank’s Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist in Vanuatu. Like Director General Garaebiti, he was born in Vanuatu and has spent his life living through disasters and working to reduce their impact. His relationship working with government officials spans back to his school days, when he studied with many of the people who now hold government positions. “What I can offer to the partnership with the government is to be relevant, trusted, and strategic over the long term,” he explains. “I will always be here.”

Obed has worked with Director General Garaebiti to improve Vanuatu’s monitoring network. “The World Bank helped develop Vanuatu’s seismic monitoring network and link it to a national multi-hazard warning center. These stations around the country transmit real-time data to the national center, which killed Vanuatu analysts and forecasters interpret,” he explained. As a result of these efforts, Vanuatu is now a leader in geohazard monitoring. It has helped establish a regional network within the Pacific to share data with other countries.

Seismologists in Vanuatu detect up to 100 earthquakes every day. In 2017, a huge eruption on Ambae Island was recorded, triggering the evacuation of 11,000 residents. “It was one of the biggest volcanic eruptions we have ever seen on that island,” said Dr. Garaebiti. “It was the first eruption with recorded data.”

In addition to the risk of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, Vanuatu is facing increasingly frequent and severe cyclones. In 2015, the most severe storm ever recorded in the South Pacific struck. “Our weather forecasters tracked Tropical Cyclone Pam every hour. Their desks flooded—but they moved everything to the other side of the partition and kept working, even though the cyclone was on top of them,” she said.

In response to Tropical Cyclone Pam, the World Bank invested US$50 million in Vanuatu, building and repairing 50 kilometers of roads and reconstructing 42 schools and 26 buildings across 20 islands. These stronger, more climate-resilient schools have been used as community shelters in the subsequent cyclones Vanuatu has faced.

road in Vanuatu

Students walk down a road in Roau, Vanuatu, that was reconstructed under a World Bank/Government of Vanuatu project ensuring students had better access to education following devastating tropical cyclones. (C) Hamish Wyatt/World Bank


A National Advisory Board for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate is helping policy makers address climate challenges

The government is ambitious in meeting the challenges climate change presents. In 2012, it took the innovative step of combining climate change and disaster management into one joint committee, called the National Advisory Board for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change (NAB). The World Bank helped establish the NAB by building the capacity of staff and helping to create governance structures. 

Director General Esline chairs the NAB. “The NAB makes my life easier,” she says. “Climate change and disasters are everyone’s business. When we get the heads of all relevant departments together, we can be aware of all climate projects. It’s easy to allocate funding with one body overseeing everything. We don’t leave anyone behind with our funding.” 


Caroline Mailalong, a kindergarten teacher at Nuakwanapou Primary School stands in front of her class. Nuakwanapou Primary has benefitted from the World Bank's support to the government to rebuild cyclone destroyed schools. (C) Hamish Wyatt/World Bank

The World Bank is committed to strengthening institutions and expanding climate-related efforts into urban planning

Leisande Otto is the World Bank’s Liaison Officer in Vanuatu. She is seeing more and more opportunities for the World Bank to support institutional strengthening in areas identified by the government. “As a result of our partnership with the government, a disaster recovery team has been trained and established within the Department of Planning. It conducted its first post-disaster needs assessment following the twin cyclones Judy and Kevin in 2023. A National Disaster Recovery Framework has also been developed to help guide Vanuatu’s response to disasters,” she said. 

The next phase of disaster risk management work in Vanuatu is likely to include applying a disaster risk lens to other sectors, such as urban planning. “The World Bank helped us develop our first ever multi-hazard risk maps. This was so valuable to Vanuatu,” said Director General Garaebiti. “In the future, I hope to work with the Bank to build a combined risk map to assist with urban planning.”

The World Bank’s disaster risk management and recovery efforts continue to grow.  A US$25 million project approved in 2022 is improving resilience and services in select informal settlements around the capital, Port Vila, for example.  “Planning with disaster risk in mind will help keep communities safe,” notes Tevi Obed.

Students in schools across Vanuatu now have new classrooms that double as community cyclone shelters, providing them with a safe and lasting place to learn. (C) Hamish Wyatt/World Bank


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