Published On: Mon, Jun 1st, 2015

Vanuatu: Disaster Preparedness Saved Lives

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Julie Niare (23) went into labor during Cyclone Pam when all houses in her village, Imayo on Tanna Island, were destroyed. She delivered baby Pamela at the local aid centre five days later. Photo: UNDP

Cyclone Pam struck Vanuatu with 250 kilometer-per-hour winds on 13 March 2015, causing widespread damage on 22 of 80 islands. It affected nearly half of the population. Some 96% of crops were destroyed, 75,000 people needed shelter, and 100,000 people were left without access to safe drinking water. Remarkably, the death toll was surprisingly low, with just eleven confirmed fatalities. Much of this can be attributed to the light structure of the traditional houses, as well as functioning nation-wide early warning mechanisms, such as the use of text messaging. Another factor was the islanders’ high level of preparedness for disasters – they usually experience one or more cyclones every year.

“Ahead of the cyclone, members of our local Community Disaster Committee came to every house and told us to prepare,” says Julie Niare, who was pregnant and went into labour during the cyclone. “They helped us to secure our houses and evacuated us when all houses got destroyed. I was brought to the Aid Post where our baby Pamela was born five days later.”

Together with Care International and other partners, such as Live and Learn Environmental Education (LLEE), UNDP has helped set up local Community Disaster Committees (CDCs) in 12 villages. These committees were instrumental in ensuring the preparation of villages ahead of category 5 Cyclone Pam, contributing to the low number of fatalities.

Jabhert Ammon, Julie’s husband and a member of the local CDC in Imayo, is convinced that raising awareness and disaster preparedness through the committee was responsible for the safety of his neighbours during the cyclone. “Ahead of the cyclone, we warned the village and activated our evacuation plan before it struck our village. I am very happy to report that nobody was injured or killed during the storm.”

Through training and educational initiatives, twelve communities across Vanuatu have learned how to respond to and cope with natural disasters like Cyclone Pam. They have been taught how to arrange their own disaster preparedness and emergency plans, establish CDCs, replant vegetation on coastlines and flood prone areas, identify safe houses and preserve food well ahead of an emergency.

As part of early recovery efforts, UNDP has also distributed solar lamps to 40 families on Tanna Island, including to Pamela’s. These activities are part of a combined $2.9million three-year-long Vanuatu Community Resilience programme (UNDP: $731.000) in partnership with Vanuatu’s Ministry of Climate Change, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and UNICEF, benefitting about 2,000 people across six provinces in Vanuatu. Improving food security as well as water and sanitation (known as “WASH”) are additional components of the programme that strives to support communities to adapt to adverse affects of climate change and reduce risks from disasters.

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