The Cook Islands comprises 15 islands, and an exclusive economic zone of 1.8 million km2. The country is home to just under 15,000 people (2011 census), but has experienced significant population decline since 1996, with large numbers of Cook Islanders migrating to New Zealand, Australia and other countries in search of education and employment opportunities. The Cook Islands are self-governing, in an associated state relationship with New Zealand.

Despite limited natural resources, remoteness from major trade and industrial centres, and a diminishing labour force, the Cook Islands is among the best performing Pacific economies with a GDP of around NZD300 million, and GDP per capita of NZD9,308. Tourism is the primary driver of the economy, with approximately 100,000 visitors per annum. Pearl farming, agriculture, fishing, financial services and the registration of ships are other important productive sectors.

The Cook Islands is located south of the equator in an area known for the frequent occurrence of tropical cyclones, and is affected by an average of 16 tropical storms each year. The country has been affected by devastating cyclones multiple times in the last few decades. For example, in 1997 Tropical Cyclones Martin and Pam caused 22 fatalities, 19 of which were on Manihiki Atoll, where wind and storm surge destroyed nearly every building on the island, incurring about  USD48 million in losses and crippling the local economy. More recently, in 2010, Tropical Cyclone Pat wrought widespread damage on the island of Aitutaki. The cost of the recovery and reconstruction came to NZD9.5 million.

Additional natural hazards faced by the Cook Islands include flooding, drought, fish poisoning and sea surge, as well as the effects of global warming such as sea-level rise, ocean acidification and coral bleaching; health and natural-resource based hazards such as pandemics and invasive alien species; and technological hazards such as aircraft crash, industrial fire and hazardous material spills. According to a recent study there is a 40% chance that in the next 50 years (100 year mean return period) one or more events in a calendar year will cause casualties exceeding 145 people in the Cook Islands[1].

Climate change and DRM are firmly embedded in the Cook Islands Sustainable Development Plan 2011–2015, and one of the eight priority areas is dedicated to ‘resilience’. DRM is governed by the Disaster Risk Management Act (2007) and the Disaster Risk Management Arrangements (2009).

The Joint National Action Plan (JNAP) for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation is increasingly seen by sector stakeholders as the main planning document for DRM and climate change adaptation (CCA) in the Cook Islands and is beginning to serve as an important coordination mechanism for programme and funding alignment. A JNAP Programme Management Unit has been established to facilitate joint planning and coordination of the many CCA and DRM programmes happening in the Cook Islands.

[1] Pacific Catastrophe Risk Assessment and Financing Initiative, 2011. ADB/World Bank.