Kate Morioka: reducing the effects of climate change and natural disasters in Tuvalu

When Kate Morioka arrived on the small island nation of Tuvalu to take on the role of Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction Adviser, the country was still recovering from Cyclone Pam, one of the worst tropical cyclones ever to hit the Pacific.

With 12 years’ experience in the Pacific region, specialising in social development and climate change planning, Kate was keen to work with the Tuvalu government to coordinate and track the progress of the cyclone recovery.

“I was really ready for a challenge,” she says. “It was an excellent opportunity to combine my previous experience but also work on disaster risk management which is an area I had some experience in.”

Kate’s role involved setting up island disaster committees and helping them get back on their feet after Cyclone Pam, as well as following up on donor-funded recovery projects, ensuring that core services like health and education were back up and running.

She also worked on the country’s climate change policy and helped to operationalise the Tuvalu Survival Fund, a financial mechanism to help deal with climate change and disaster impacts.

What she has enjoyed most about PACTAM2 is the focus on partner government engagement and the people-to-people links.

“The role of PACTAM advisers is to build capacity and support the local institutions and staff in being able to do the job,” Kate says.

“It’s really satisfying to know that I’ve done this work not on my own but with my colleagues here in Tuvalu and being able to support them so they’re proud of what they’ve achieved.”

During her time working as a PACTAM2 adviser, Kate and her husband welcomed their first child. They flew back to Australia for the birth but returned to Tuvalu shortly after, with Kate returning to work when their daughter was eight weeks old.

While the early days with a newborn were not easy, especially without close family nearby, Kate says she felt very supported by her colleagues and the local community.

“Tuvalu is very pro-family, very family-friendly. My director was really supportive and so were my work colleagues. I really appreciate the work environment here.”

Kate feels that while she has shared many of her skills, building capacity in the government department in which she works, she’s also learnt so much from the people she’s come to know in Tuvalu.

“What I’ve learnt is that what you think is important really isn’t important in life. For people here in Tuvalu it’s about family, about birth, a new life or death.”

“You quickly realise that although you’re here as an adviser, there’s so much more to life that your colleagues show you. It makes you reassess your own life priorities and appreciate all the good things that you have.”

One of the things she felt prepared her for the role was attending the initial PACTAM2 interview in-country.

“I would really encourage anyone looking at applying for a PACTAM2 position to take the opportunity to do the job interview in-country because you get to meet with the counterparts that you’ll be working with,” she says.

“You’ll get to see what the accommodation is like, you’ll see what it’s like to live there, and you can make a decision whether it’s something for you or not.”

Kate is one of the youngest PACTAM2 advisers. While she was initially unsure whether her qualifications and experience were an exact fit for the job, she says that anyone considering applying for a PACTAM2 role should go for it.

“Don’t shy away from applying because you think that you might not have enough experience and you might be up against other people who have a lot more experience than you.”

“It’s a unique program and it’s great to have a role where you are accountable both to DFAT and the partner governments,” Kate says.

“You feel like you can really make a contribution, because you really are part of the institution in the host country.”