Improved network needed for disaster preparedness and response

Weather offices, disaster agencies and humanitarian agencies across the Pacific needs to improve their communication network and collaborate more with local communities to reduce disaster vulnerabilities and risks.

The recommendation by Adi Vasulevu of Women’s Weather Watch in Fiji was made during a panel session on Early Warning, Early action and Effective Disaster response at the inaugural Pacific Resilience Meeting (PRM) in Suva.

Ms Vasulevu said the Pacific had experienced severe disasters and is faced with the realities of climate change, and better communication channels are needed to prepare and respond to extreme events.

“Our experiences are real and accelerating, however, the resource to respond is vastly unequal, disconnected and selective or territorial,” she said, in contrast to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Goal 5 – ‘Leave no one behind.’

She said as first responders, the capacity of communities and locally-based stakeholders’ needs to be improved and increased, before, during and after a disaster has happened.

Reflecting on Cyclone Bebe which hit Tawake in Vanua Levu in 1972, Ms Vasulevu told the meeting how traditional knowledge meant her grandparents and other villagers could gather food ahead of time, which kept them going for at least a week.

But she said it was a different story in 2009.

“Korotani area in Labasa was hit by one of the biggest floods that hit Fiji, there were 11 casualties. Men, women and children were waiting at the community hall for hours but no one arrives that day. There had been no water and electricity for two weeks,” she said.

Tonga’s former NDMO director Leveni ‘Aho said resources to reach the communities in his country is limited during severe weather and communication is also a huge factor.

“Tonga has a group of islands further north and in those Islands, we don’t have the luxury to get there at all, the only means is to go for the radio,” he said.

Joe Curry Regional Advisor USAID – Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance said the size and variability of the Pacific, means delivering aid has some challenges.

“Many countries can count government relief assistance within hours after a disaster – that’s not the case in the Pacific. In most cases, outer islands are days away from relief assistance and even days away from getting basic assessment information,” Mr Curry said.

“So we need to make sure communities themselves are empowered, have the technical know-how to prepare for a disaster and how to interpret early warning, and how to move ahead with first days of response and recovery before government or NGO assessment can reach them.”

The agency is working on disaster-risk reduction projects in eight Pacific island countries and Mr Curry said they are looking forward to collaborating more widely with communities.

The panel’s facilitator and Pacific Red Cross Climate Centre Senior Advisor, Dr Olivia Warwick said it is important that early warning reaches all people to enable a more effective response.

“A very good example was given by Adi Bale Kurunavanua of Nadi Market Vendors Association in response to rainfall forecast over the media. Nadi market vendors packed up their stalls because they had a disaster plan in place – contingency plan that mapped out what they would do when the risk of flooding at the market is heightened. They packed up to prevent losses which was a good example of an action,” Dr Warwick said.

This panel session was during the inaugural Pacific Resilience Meeting from 1 – 3 May 2019 during the session on the Framework for Resilient Development in the Pacific to strengthen disaster preparedness, response and recovery.

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