Flash floods in the Solomon Islands have killed 16 people and left thousands more homeless, authorities said Saturday, just days after the islands unveiled climate change rediation plans that included early warning systems for extreme weather.
Dozens were still missing and the death toll could rise further, government spokesman George Herming said.
As many as 15,000 people have had their homes destroyed or made uninhabitable, he said. Days of rain caused the Mataniko River – which runs through the capital, Honiara – to overflow Thursday and flood low-lying settlements located nearby.
The Solomon Islands, among the poorest Pacific Island nations, are home to 600,000 people.
World Vision's Emergency Response Manager in the Solomon Islands, Lawrence Hillary, told Fairfax News the organization was particularly concerned about the welfare of children.
"My staff has witnessed a child being swept away by the floodwaters. They are devastated by what they have witnessed."
On April 2, the Solomon Islands received a World Bank grant for $9.1 million to go toward climate change adaptation efforts. The money would be used for setting up an early warning system to alert communities if an extreme weather event were about to hit, the Solomon Times reported.
The grant is also targetted for the construction of ‘climate proof’ buildings in four provinces across the nation.
The disastrous flooding follows the release of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that highlighted the vulnerability of small island nations to the effects of climate change.
The Solomon Islands have already experienced sea level rise, and in 2008, widespread flooding displaced tens of thousands.
“The climate and disaster resilience project is vitally important in a country where communities face very real, very present threats from natural disasters and climate change, especially in remote Outer Islands,” said Franz Drees-Gross, World Bank Country Director for the Pacific Islands.
Aid workers feared outbreaks of disease and were waiting for Honiara's flooded Henderson International Airport to reopen so emergency relief supplies could be flown in.
The loss of the bridges prevented officials seeing the scale of destruction caused by landslides and floods in outlying areas although a helicopter had been able to make reconnaissance flights from Honiara.
As Solomon Islanders battled the floodwaters they were also shaken by a strong 6.0 magnitude earthquake late on Friday, but there were no reports of any damage. New Zealand's government has pledged 300,000 New Zealand dollars ($258,000) to the relief effort.
Al Jazeera and wire services