Disaster response making a real difference for the future

It has been just over a year since Cyclone Pam, the largest cyclone to hit Vanuatu, caused devastation to the country and its National Disaster Management Office is now dealing with another natural disaster caused by the dry weather conditions and El Nino weather pattern that has been plaguing the Pacific region.

Director of NDMO, Mr Shadrack Welgetabit said although the El Nino conditions have officially broken in the region, Vanuatu is still being affected by its presence as the normal dry season begins without adequate rain.

“Seeing that we just came out of El Nino we are now heading straight into our dry season and although we are having a bit of rain this is still reported as below normal. We don’t have any issues with access to water right now but we are monitoring the food security sector very closely and trying our best to address those issues as they unfold around the country,” he said.

The NDMO, other government agencies and partners are working together to ensure the impact of these dry conditions are minimised across the country.

Mr Welegtabit said water tanks are being installed in ‘hot spot’ dry areas for future dry weather ensuring communities will have adequate access to water across all 6 provinces of the country.

“Currently we have been responded in terms of purchase of water tanks and putting them in locations that are drought affected to protect for future water shortages to identify the hot spot areas.

We have also secured a drill rig through the support of the BSRP project and this will be managed directly by the Department of Water. It will ensure people have bore holes drilled so communities can access water even in times of dry weather like the ones we are experiencing at the moment.

Work is expected to begin on this as soon as the drill rig arrives in the country with key sites already identified.

This work is helping make communities more resilient to not only the predicted impacts of climate change but also to future disasters in the country.

This existing work is part of the regular work the NDMO carry out across the country but helping prepare the country for future disaster is also critical with Mr Welegtabit explaining more community awareness of disaster is being targeted to ensure the country is more resilient in the future.

One of the areas the NDMO is focused on is strengthening the provincial network of Emergency Operations Centres (PEOC) which came as a recommendation to the impact of Tropical Cyclone Pam.

Currently three ‘Provincial Emergency Operation Centres (PEOCs) have been built across the 6 provinces with another two being built by the end of 2016 that will provide equipment and staff to help increase disaster awareness in communities and support immediate response in future events.

“We are thankful the BSRP and the World bank for assisting us in having proper NDMO offices in the provinces and putting in provincial disaster officers and having equipment given through the project for three boats and two cars that will be located in 5 provinces and that should assist in supporting disaster awareness into the communities,” he said.

This work was directly recommended as necessary resilience building tools from the Tropical Cyclone Pam Lessons Learned Workshop and Report.

Provincial officers in each of these officers will work directly at community level and with each of the community disaster and climate change committees to develop response plans and testing these plans so communities are more prepared for future disaster.

“In the past we were not able to do that as we didn’t have access to this equipment and we are now working on that and are thankful that the project was able to help us and we now have to work to carry out these programmes in the community,” he said.

These officers and Provincial Emergency Operation Centres will not just be used by the NDMO as all other government ministries and partners will be able to utilise these offices and equipment to support people at community level. This work will help mainstream disaster resilience into the broader community and government directly.

This will mean people in the community will be there to assist in the preparation for disaster and response and recovery to disaster in the future.

“If we could plan better and prepare better then we might be able to minimise the impact of whatever is going to hit the community whether it’s a cyclone or a tsunami and we will be working with other government line agencies to help people at the community,” he said.

Mr Welegtabit said they are now working to secure an on-going budget for community training and awareness to support these centres at every level of government as the cost of travelling to remote parts of the country can be expensive.

“The only hiccup that we will be working on is terms of ensuring they will happen at community level is to ask extra budget support from the government and hopefully we will have adequate funding provided by the government to roll out community activities,” he said.