Impact Dossier: Cyclone Winston & Fiji

A direct hit from powerful Cyclone Winston seems inevitable for the Pacific Island chain of Fiji. Winds seem likely to be in the equivalent of a U.S. Category 4 or 5 Hurricane as it hits Fiji.

Perhaps best known to the outside world for their famous water & as a beautiful tourist destination, there is much more to know about Fiji.

People: In 2014, Fiji was estimated to have a population of about 881,000 people, 52% of which live in urban areas, 48% rural areas. 1 in 8 people in Fiji live in the capital of Suva. Fiji has on average 2 hospital beds for every 1000 people and a very low 0.43 Physicians per 1000 people. Rates are likely lower in rural areas.

In their 2015 INFORM index, the United Nations PreventionWeb group lists Fiji at High Risk for Disasters (especially Cyclones) with a Medium Vulnerability to the people. Fiji has a land mass slightly smaller than New Jersey according to the CIA. 23% of that land is for agricultural use.

Fiji was a country in turmoil after a coup in 2000. Only recently have they held any credible elections (as deemed by international observers) in September 2014.

Economy: Whenever a powerful Cyclone hits a country, agriculture can be extremely vulnerable to the winds and flooding. 12% of the GDP in Fiji is agriculture.

Suva, the capital, is home to a diverse service and financial sector and is by far the most modern city in the country.

Tourism is a growing sector of the economy, but according to recent data from the Bureau of Statistics, February is a low point in the year for arrivals.

Exports of Fiji — 2013 (MIT Observatory of Economic Complexity)

Shipping is always at risk with Cyclones — impacts to Imports and Exports are usually temporary headaches for impacted countries. Nearly 25% of the Exports of Fiji are refined petroleum, almost all of which goes to smaller regional islands. The island of Tonga relies on Fiji for all refined oil. A disruption in Fiji would have downstream impacts in the form of oil shortages there if they do not have much oil storage.

Fiji Exports of Water — 2013 (MIT Observatory of Economic Complexity)

As expected, Water is a primary export of the country of Fiji. The United States is a major consumer of Fiji Water, which is not surprising if you frequent a grocery store.

Fiji Exports of Processed Fish

The fish industry is also a large part of any island’s economy. Combined, fresh & processed fish equal roughly 20% of the exports from Fiji. Fresh fish is sent regionally to Asian countries with larger economies, but the United States receives almost all of the Processed fish.

Raw sugar is also a major export of the country, which goes almost exclusively to western European countries who once colonized many islands in the region.

Transportation: Being an island chain, Fiji has 28 airports for intra-island transport. Only 4 of these airports have paved runways. Interestingly, the capital city is not home to the major airport. Nadi on the west side of the island is home to the major hub for the country. The airport sits right inside Nadi Bay and is very susceptible to water rise.

Overview of Nadi
Major ports of Fiji

Ports are critical in Fiji’s economy — and all three of their biggest ports are at risk. Most critically in jeopardy to Winston is the port of Levuka. While not the largest port, it is directly facing out to sea in the direction Winston is approaching. Heavy surge flooding could ruin this town of about 4000 if the winds don’t. In addition, mountains immediately to the west of the town will channel rain down into the town in tandem with winds and flood. Levuka’s port and fish cannery employ most of the citizens in the area. Levuka was recently named a World Heritage Site in 2013 due to it’s colonial port roots.

Levuka’s surrounding Geography puts it in grave danger.

Fiji’s largest port is in the capital of Suva. Because it is the shipping hub of the country, there are many factories in the area. This is also the primary docking area for cruise ships, a primary source of tourism for the island. The port is on the west side of the Peninsula and will be vulnerable to tidal flooding in the Harbor and strong winds. A major hit to this port would be a critical blow to the country.

Lautoka is the second largest port in Fiji and its specialty is sugar cane exports. The sugar cane harvest season in Fiji is from May to December, so factories are pushing out this year’s harvest during winter. Located on the Northwest side, it could be vulnerable to storm surge if Winston stays a little farther north than forecast. Heavy winds are possible here as well.


CIA Factbook: Fiji

Fiji Port Corporation

Fiji Bureau of Statistics

Fiji Meteorological Service Report on Cyclone Kina (PDF)

MIT’s Observatory of Economic Complexity


World Bank