In January 2009 Fiji faced its worst floods since 1931 with 400mm of rain falling in two days leaving a dozen people dead, more than 10,000 displaced and severe impacts on crops, infrastructure and the possibility of disease. For those living in informal settlements in several towns and cities of Fiji there were few traditional ways of dealing with such a disaster as kinship networks and food security practices have been weakened over time. Whilst in rural areas the impacts were severe, it is known what proportion of the sugar crop was lost and what economic and human impact the floods caused, but in urban areas the picture is less clear. Urban squatters, living on coastal, often degraded areas are very vulnerable to severe and rapid floods with water rushing through and in some cases submerging their homes. These marginal groups have few opportunities for assistance and rehabilitation and can be overlooked in the aftermath.
Using examples from informal (or ‘squatter’) settlements, the vulnerability of the poor to major environmental change will be illustrated to show how Fiji’s urban poor cope with such disasters. Implications for education, employment and health are discussed, and alternative ways of coping outlined.