Providing a Safe Haven

A Photo Essay on Climate Proofing Mangaia Harbour, Cook Islands.


an island nation at risk

The second largest of the Cook Islands was stripped of a vital source of trade and economic prosperity in 2005 when tropical cyclones Meena and Nancy destroyed Mangaia Harbour. The transfer of goods to the island was cut off by the natural disasters, leaving the community vulnerable and hindering economic development. These events further isolated the island from foreign and domestic markets and put livelihoods at stake. Faced with limited options to ensure delivery of essential supplies, the remote community (population 300) was forced to use air freight– which came at a very high economic cost — to transport products on and off of the island.


a new address: avarua landing

In April 2014, Mangaia Harbour was given a second chance: Avarua Landing, as the locals call Mangaia Harbour, could start operating for full again after nine years of reduced capacity. A team of scientists and engineers partnered to design a more climate-resilient harbour infrastructure with improved ability to withstand rough seas, providing a more prosperous future for generations to come.

The idea of reducing risks from cyclones and rough seas was tested in the design of the new Mangaia Harbour. Our team of engineers worked with climate scientists to improve not only the strength and durability of the harbour structure, but to improve on its operational features. — Hon. Mark Brown, the Cook Islands Minister for Infrastructure


minor adjustments yield powerful results

Minor adjustments to the Mangaia Harbour dramatically improved its resilience to natural disasters: the harbour ramp was moved to a more sheltered location, and the harbour platform was extended to reduce wear and tear of scouring backwash.


a more resilient way forward

Sustainable economic development, modern infrastructure and coastal management planning will reduce the climate change risks that the Cook Islands are facing. This includes using modern methods to construct and maintain coastal infrastructure such as the harbour Avarua Landing. Including Accounting for climate change in coastal management will increase chances that coasts and shorelines are maintained and not eroded by extreme weather events and increasing sea levels. Authorities are preparing guidelines for community development that recognize the risk of climate-related disasters and support preventative, adaptive measures to reduce risk, such as building design restrictions in flood-prone areas caused by wave run up. They also recommend better infrastructure to help evacuate people when disaster strike.

The reconstruction provides one of the most essential infrastructure an island community can have: An efficient and operational harbour. In addition, this harbour has been built back better, to withstand extreme weather and rougher seas. The harbour is an example of what “climate proofed infrastructure” means in reality, and hopefully, it will also be a harbour for increased trade and economic prosperity for the Cook Islands. - Gabor Vereczi, UNDP-GEF Regional Technical Advisor


a regional partnership for a more climate-ready region

Supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change (PACC) project is safeguarding the coasts of the Cook Islands. Funded by the Global Environment Facility’s Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF) and the Australian Government, the PACC project is the largest climate change adaptation initiative in the Pacific region, with demonstration projects in 14 Pacific island countries. In the Cook Islands project execution is ensured by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the Government of the Cook Islands.

The Cook Islands is one of many small island developing states that has faced, and will be facing, more extreme weather and increasing sea levels as a result of climate change. The Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change project, covering 14 countries, has brought national representatives together to share experiences and solutions. The Cook Island experience is one UNDP encourages to be shared, and we hope will be replicated by more countries. - Lizbeth Cullity ,UN Resident Coordinator & UNDP Resident Representative, Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa & Tokelau.

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