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Results BriefsJune 7, 2024

Improving Lives and Building Resilience in Vanuatu

Vanuatu is highly vulnerable to natural hazards and disasters. In the wake of a devastating storm, Tropical Cyclone Pam, the World Bank’s Vanuatu Infrastructure Reconstruction and Investment Program (VIRIP) reconstructed or repaired 50 kilometers of roads, and rebuilt 40 schools and 26 public facilities, aiming to render these infrastructure works more resilient to possible future disasters. Road improvements benefited more than 28,000 people, and nearly 5,000 students benefited from safer school facilities. The program also created more than 134,000 worker-days for local contractors.


Vanuatu is one of the most vulnerable countries to disasters in the world. Most of its school buildings are either semi-permanent non-engineered structures or poorly maintained, leaving them highly vulnerable to disasters. Roads are prone to flooding, creating dangerous conditions and isolating communities during extreme weather. A World Bank report estimates that natural disasters could increase Vanuatu’s public debt by 13 percentage points (around $230 million) compared to a scenario where Vanuatu is completely resilient to disasters.

In March 2015, Tropical Cyclone Pam struck 22 islands of Vanuatu, causing economic losses and damages estimated at $450 million (64 percent of GDP). On Vanuatu’s remote outer islands, most roads, schools, and public assets were damaged, stalling recovery.

Alex Rodolph, Grade Three teacher and chair of the Community Disaster and Climate Change Committee, Teouma

Alex Rodolph, Grade Three teacher and chair of the Community Disaster and Climate Change Committee, Teouma

Photo: Hamish Wyatt, World Bank

“When I started teaching in 2008, there was no school building, just a tarpaulin. The school buildings the World Bank supported helped us a lot, especially in times of disaster, when they serve as evacuation centers.”—Alex Rodolph, Grade Three teacher and chair of the Community Disaster and Climate Change Committee, Teouma


Launched in 2016, the Vanuatu Infrastructure Reconstruction and Investment Program (VIRIP) supported the reconstruction and improvement of roads, schools, and key public assets damaged by Tropical Cyclone Pam on Vanuatu’s remote outer islands. Partnering with local contractors, it created substantial employment opportunities through which local people were able to improve their skills and learn new ones in reconstruction and resilient building. The program also offered critical institutional strengthening support to the government through the Ministry of Education and Training and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Public Utilities, which helped it craft policies and strategic guidance on disaster recovery.

Individual works projects were not selected at the appraisal stage, enabling the government of Vanuatu to choose projects based on information acquired during a transparent and deliberate process in the early stages of implementation. The government selected projects based on need and coordinated with other development partners supporting post-disaster reconstruction.

VIRIP built on the World Bank’s experience in making resilient investments in post-disaster reconstruction, climate change, and adaptation and disaster risk reduction across the Pacific region. It was also informed by the 2016 Systematic Country Diagnostic for Eight Small Pacific Island Countries, which focuses on protecting livelihoods from climate change, natural disasters, and economic shocks.

Between 2016 and 2023, Vanuatu experienced 10 disaster events, including cyclones, earthquakes, and volcanic activity. Despite the substantial disruptions these events caused, the project required only one extra year to complete. Design features of the project—including employing local contractors, adopting sound road construction practices, designing cyclone-resilient buildings, involving communities, and providing technical training—helped the project withstand compounding disasters.


Between 2016 and 2023, VIRIP contributed to the reconstruction and improvement of vital infrastructure across Vanuatu, strengthening the country’s resilience to disasters. VIRIP helped rebuild and improve 50 kilometers of roads from full reconstruction of fibre-reinforced concrete roads to spot improvements (including 271 smaller physical improvements), allowing more than 28,000 road users and pedestrians in rural and remote communities to improve their all-weather road access—twice the number targeted. The project also reconstructed or improved safety standards at 40 schools, benefiting nearly 5,000 students and reducing the need for school closures during and after disasters. It improved or rebuilt 26 public buildings, including offices and health facilities, enabling critical services to be maintained during disasters. This involved upgrades and retrofitting, and in some cases making buildings safer through asbestos removal and safety improvements.  

  • VIRIP–supported schools and health facilities provided safe refuge for local communities during Tropical Cyclones Harold (2020) and Judy and Kevin (2023). Schools in Shefa, Malampa, and Port Vila and health facilities in Erromango were used as shelters during all three cyclones.
  • Communities in project areas overwhelmingly expressed positive views about the outcome of the project, with more than 98 percent of surveyed beneficiaries stating that the project investments reflected their needs.
  • VIRIP coordinated closely with the government of Vanuatu and with other development partners, in particular the government of Australia, to determine which roads, schools, and public assets the project should focus on. The use of local contractors enabled VIRIP to work in remote communities on the outer islands that were hard to reach and not prioritized by other development partners.
Daniel Kaltoy, Principal of Ekipe School, Efate

Daniel Kaltoy, Principal of Ekipe School, Efate

Photo: Hamish Wyatt, World Bank

“We were very lucky that we have the two new buildings. Even when we have Category 5 cyclones, we can accommodate students in the school to save them from being at risk in their homes.” — Daniel Kaltoy, Principal of Ekipe School, Efate


Looking Ahead

The World Bank and the government of Vanuatu continue to actively pursue and implement new resilient investments and reforms to enhance the country’s resilience to climate and disaster risks and improve contingent financing for disaster response. For example, The Vanuatu Affordable and Resilient Settlements Project (VARS) is addressing urgent demands through urban upgrading in four informal settlements, developing future communities through planned and managed urban expansion, and strengthening urban management systems through targeted risk-informed planning.

The Catastrophe Deferred Drawdown Option (Cat DDO) instrument, which enables countries to access immediate financing in the event of a disaster, represents another avenue for the World Bank to support Vanuatu in building resilience and responding to disasters. As of March 2023, two standalone Cat DDOs had been fully disbursed, and discussions on a third are ongoing. In March of 2023, the World Bank disbursed the Second Cat-DDO for a value of $9.5 million grant to support the government of Vanuatu’s response to Severe Tropical Cyclones Judy and Kevin, and to a magnitude 6.5 earthquake in Vanuatu’s north.