Brace Yourselves: Cyclone Season is Here!
November 23, 2022
Strong winds, heavy rain and thunderstorms. YES – the cyclone season is once again here and the onus is on us consumers to ensure we remain unscathed from this deadly force of nature. A cyclone is a weather phenomenon that always has had a tremendous impact on humanity since time immemorial and it can certainly be dangerous for humanity as they can bring widespread destruction to humanity.
What do the experts say?
According to the Fiji Meteorological Service, two to three tropical cyclones are likely to pass through Fiji’s Exclusive Economic Zone this cyclone season and one to two severe tropical cyclones are likely to affect Fiji during this period. Fiji is also anticipating one to four severe Tropical Cyclones ranging from category three and above between now and April. However, it is not just strong winds that Fijians will have to keep an eye out for. As seen previously, mass flooding and even sea flooding is commonly associated with these superstorms that have had a very drastic impact on human life.
Data released by the Fiji Police Force revealed that between 2017 and August 2021, a total of 17 people had drowned during events such as cyclones and flooding. Majority of these incidents involved people being swept away by strong currents while trying to cross flooded rivers and creeks. In total, 67 people have lost their lives as a direct result of a natural disaster such as cyclone in the last 10 years. This includes a record 44 deaths recorded during the severe Tropical Cyclone Winston in 2016.
What is the current trend?
In Fiji the question is not longer IF we are going to experience a cyclone, but a matter WHEN. Fiji has been hit by 14 cyclones in the last 7 years alone and due to the increasing impacts of climate change, this is only expected to get even worse. Additionally, these storms have begun to get more severe compared to about 10 years ago. The average loss due to cyclones and flooding to our GDP are estimated to be $500 million annually, with Tropical Cyclone Winston costing over $2 billion in damages.
Consumer activity at the cyclone’s horizon
Once a cyclone forms in or near Fiji, there is often high consumer activity in the market as consumers stock up on disaster essential items such as batteries, candles, torches, bottled water, hurricane lanterns and lamps, chargers, ropes, building materials, generators, tarpaulins, tents, carpentry tools and matches. Unfortunately, it has been noted that people rush to buy related items when the announcement for the approaching disaster is made, hence resulting in the price gouging by some traders to make a quick buck off consumers. This exploitative trader behaviour has been apparent during previous natural disasters. This behaviour is not limited to pre-disaster periods. Immediately following a natural disaster some traders will attempt to retail stock that may have been damaged and will even hike prices of certain essential goods like food, building materials. This was evident in 2017 following floods caused by Tropical Cyclones Josie and Keni and more recently Cyclones Ana and Herald. Previous surveys and an analysis of the complaints by the Council discovered that some unscrupulous traders were profiteering from the distress and suffering of consumers. Therefore, it is extremely important that consumers understand how to purchase goods before and after natural disasters strike.
Consumer advice and Issues
- Stock up early
It is not practical to shop around for the best deals just when the announcement of a possible cyclone is made because you may end up paying high prices for certain goods. Additionally, one may not be able to get certain goods because of high demand. One way to beat this is to stock disaster essential items at the start of the cyclone season instead of waiting to purchase in the last minute.
2. Check your expiry dates
Consumers must also check expiry dates when shopping for disaster essential items. Look for items that have a longer shelf life, this way you are able to keep it for a longer period of time.
3. Know what you will be facing
If you live-in low-lying areas or on more exposed hilly areas, you should know what effects a cyclone can have on you and your family. If the area you reside in is flood prone, try to stock up on waterproof torches and canned food. These will be useful if you need to evacuate suddenly. Prepare your emergency kit in such a way that can be easily taken to evacuation centres and does not get damaged.
4. Look out for traders limiting sale
It has been noted during past cyclones that certain traders tend to place restrictions on the quantity of goods one can purchase. For instance, during one of the cyclones, a trader was limiting sale of hurricane lanterns to one per customer. This is an illegal practice, unless written approval is provided to the trader by the competition regulator. So, consumers should be on the lookout for this practice. It is noteworthy that limiting sale can also occur post cyclone.
Post Disaster Period
- Frozen products
During cyclones, consumers can expect power outages to affect stores and supermarkets. As a result, large amounts of frozen goods in supermarket freezers will defrost and may spoil. Some traders may still try to retail these goods hence, consumers should take care to carefully inspect any frozen food that they purchase after a natural disaster.
2.Beware of flood damaged goods
Carefully inspect all items to ensure they have not been damaged in floods which is a common occurrence during cyclones. If the packaging is discoloured, or looks damaged, it is likely that it may have been wet by floodwaters. Before you purchase any electrical items, ask the store attendants to test them to ensure that they work.
3. Look out for conditional selling
Immediately after cyclones, the Council often discovers traders engaging in conditional selling. For instance, telling consumers they can only buy bread if they purchase butter with it. Conditional selling is illegal and if consumers face this issue, they must immediately contact the Council.
4. Be wary when dealing with hardware companies
As consumers try to rebuild their damaged homes after cyclones, the demand for hardware materials such as timber gets relatively high. During such instances, consumers have reported cases whereby certain hardware traders took thousands of dollars as deposit but failed to supply materials. Therefore, consumers must ensure to only deal with reputable traders and should first confirm if the products are in stock before making payments.
General tips on preparing for a cyclone: IN A NUTSHELL
While you cannot control when or where a cyclone will hit, the best way to minimize potential damage is to be prepared. Her are some easy steps you can take to be prepared for a cyclone:
- Make a plan
If evacuation is necessary, turn off all utilities such as electricity and follow community disaster preparedness plans. Select a common meeting place or single point-of-contact for all family members. If you have pets, have a plan for their evacuation as well.
- Install storm shutters
Protect windows, doors and skylights with appropriate shutters or impact-resistant glass. You can nail pieces of plywood to window frames as last-minute protection
- Power up
Fill your car’s petrol tank, charge your mobile phone, test your generator and have plenty of fuel ready in case of power outages
- Prep an emergency kit
Gather torches, a portable radio, extra batteries, non-perishable food, bottled water, cash, blankets, clothing and toiletries.
- Identify a shelter room
This enclosed area should be on the first floor, in the central part of the house with no windows. Avoid all unprotected windows and doors until the storm passed.
- Move your cars
Move cars to higher ground or park them in your garage against the garage doors. Do not park under trees, power lines or in low-lying areas.
We are here for you!
The Council undertakes frequent market surveillance prep and post cyclones to ensure traders do not engage in unethical practices. Traders must also understand that charging fair prices for goods helps to improve their public image as a fair trader and guarantees them repeat business.
If consumers come across traders that engage in unethical practices pre or post cyclones, they should contact the council via the National Consumer Helpline on toll free number 155. Consumers can also email their complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org.