Griffith University’s Climate Change Response Program is part of a remarkable Pacific Island project to rebuild an area devastated by Cyclone Pam in 2015 and enhance its ability to withstand future extreme weather events.

On Saturday, 23 April 2016, the official opening of a solar-powered, Category 5 cyclone-proof community medical clinic on Vanuatu’s Tanna Island will feature 1000 local dancers, 13 tribal chiefs and representatives of the multi-partner team behind the project.

The Enkatalie area of Tanna was one of the hardest hit when Cyclone Pam struck in March 2015, destroying lives, homes, community buildings, businesses, infrastructure and vegetation.

The disaster demonstrated the vulnerability of local communities that lack cyclone shelter or modern energy services and sanitation.

However, from the devastation arose a project envisaged by the Vanuatu and Tafae provincial governments to revitalise and rebuild Tanna.

Adopting a holistic approach to the resilient delivery of essential services, the first phase involves the construction of community buildings in 15 villages, with each building designed to withstand Category 5 cyclones and equipped with a solar energy Mini Power System.

Until now these communities have not had access to electricity.

Queensland companies are major partners in the project, with the buildings designed and constructed by Brisbane-based Nev House and the Mini Power System invented by Gold Coast firm Green NRG Co, a subsidiary of another Queensland company, LEDTek Global.

The Mini Power System is a renewable energy generation and storage system enabling users to generate, store and consume their own clean, free energy. It represents a major breakthrough in controllable unit technology and is a genuine first-in-the-world solution.

Director of the Griffith Climate Change Response Program, Professor Brendan Mackey, said it is envisaged the community buildings can act as safe houses during cyclones, while at other times serving as health clinics, classrooms and fulfilling other community purposes.

“Griffith will provide independent monitoring and evaluation of the project over the next three years, with particular focus on how the energy is being used and the social impact of these new facilities,” said Professor Mackey.

“We’ll be looking at these from engineering, economic and social perspectives.

“The aim of the project is to assist local communities in developing more resilient settlements and enhanced livelihoods in ways that leapfrog old technologies and take advantage of emerging green building design and clean energy approaches.”

Professor Mackey said Griffith expertise could also inform future projects aiming to work with local stakeholders — such as remote tribes and local government in Vanuatu — and highlight the array of constraints and opportunities for similar adaptation projects to include principles of climate justice.

Professor Mackey also acknowledged the project would not have been possible without the funding support of an International Charitable Foundation.