The climate crisis doesn’t stop during a pandemic. If anything, weakened health systems, food insecurity and economic downfall brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have made climate impacts even harder to respond to.

Dubbed the earth’s most powerful weather event so far in 2020, Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Harold – the biggest cyclone in the Pacific since Tropical Cyclone Winston, has made landfall in Vanuatu. TC Harold maintained a Category 4 status until making landfall, uprooting large trees and toppling major structures. Crossing between Vanuatu’s eastern islands, TC Harold intensified into a Category 5 cyclone and continued its devastating path through the island group.

While Vanuatu currently has no reported cases of COVID-19, the Pacific nation declared a national emergency and closed its maritime and aviation borders in attempts to protect its people from the global pandemic. However, in the wake of TC Harold, distancing measures have been relaxed as evacuation centres are being opened to cater for displaced communities, putting people in close proximity with each other. This could be a harbinger of difficulties to come as the Pacific begins the job of tackling the climate crisis in the time of a global health pandemic.

“As Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Fiji prepare for humanitarian response, we remember that both these crises highlight the inequality perpetuated by an economic system which puts profit over people and just how critical systems change is towards just recovery.” 

– Genevieve Jiva, Pacific Islands Climate Action Network Coordinator

Many Pacific island countries cannot solely focus on the global pandemic at hand, because severe natural disasters are still a stark reality . This is why any recovery from COVID-19 must be a just one, creating resilience for current crises as well as future ones. The Pacific does not have time for a recovery system that perpetuates injustice and puts profit over the lives of people. The world can not go back to ‘normal’ after the pandemic because ‘normal’ is what burdened countries like Vanuatu with the injustice of the climate crisis, a situation for which they are least responsible.

“Category 5 Cyclone Harold is an outcome of the unconscionable crime of climate change perpetrated against the people of Vanuatu by fossil fuel corporations and the countries that subsidize them. The horrific loss and damage that has occurred today undermines basic human rights of life, food, water and personal security of innocent Pacific peoples”

Dr. Christopher Bartlett, Independent Climate Expert Vanuatu

Vanuatu recovered from Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Pam in 2015 with the same resilience that has seen island nations deal with rising sea levels, salt water inundation, flooding and droughts. Now they are being forced to draw on that same strength and reserve, with the addition of a global pandemic looming overhead.

Community members with their belongings after Tropical Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu in 2015

And TC Harold isn’t done with the Pacific yet. As the storm tracks towards Fiji, where 14 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed, the region continues to live the delicate and dangerous juggling act of containing a health emergency and fighting a climate one.

A just recovery would mean that, as we recover from COVID-19, decision-makers would consider the interrelated crises – notably the climate crisis, which were in place long before COVID-19, and now risk being intensified. It would mean that economic relief goes directly to people, rather than corporations – particularly fossil fuel companies that are responsible for the climate crisis. It would also mean that we build solidarity and community across borders – we do not have to be resilient on our own, but as a united global community sharing solutions and strength.

If you support a #JustRecovery from COVID-19, read and sign on to these five principles that governments should follow to chart a path to a genuinely healthier and more equitable future.

Sign the Open Letter








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