Sevuloni Dewai was among the early birds in the hinterland of Naitasiri Province for a much-anticipated event down the Wainimala River on Wednesday, 27 February, 2019.
He was on the first bus out of the mountainous ranges on the border with Fiji’s largest province of Ba near the Monasavu Dam and arrived just in time for the opening of the Vunidawa Emergency Operations Centre (EOC).
Dewai , an elder from Laselevu Village, was there to witness what changed from when he was last at Vunidawa, where the government station sits to serve the country’s second largest province and Northern Tailevu.
“Before this used to be an old run-down place,” he said as he entered the newly-refurbished EOC, the ninth upgraded around the country in the past 13 months to increase Fiji’s disaster preparedness and communications abilities before, during, and after a disaster.
As a yaqona farmer who lost his crop, his home, an aunt and nephew during flooding at the height of cyclones, Dewai, 68, takes experience seriously.
“We lost and we learnt. I don’t want to go through that experience again.”
When Hurricane Bibi struck Fiji in 1972, Dewai lost his nephew. He remembers category five Cyclone Winston as the one that took “my good aunt, my farm and my home”.
“Winston taught us many lessons. Today, when the EOC alerts village headmen on any flooding or cyclone threat, we run to safety with our children and grandchildren.”
On his brief tour of the EOC at the opening by Assistant Minister for Rural Development, Jale Sigarara, Dewai said it made struggling rural people such as him happy to witness measures put in place to improve the chances of survival for vulnerable villages located beside the river.
The upper reaches of Naitasiri are prone to flooding and landslides during torrential rain and Vunidawa itself often gets cut off when the river breaks banks on either side of the hillside that is home to a police station, hospital, agricultural station, Water Authority of Fiji, Post Fiji office, social welfare office and its provincial administrator.
The EOCs were funded by the European Union under the ACP-EU Building Safety and Resilience in the Pacific (SSRP) project which has been implemented by the Pacific Community (SPC).
Mr Sigarara said the refurbishment of the EOC “was necessary and timely”.
Built and installed with state-of-the-art equipment at a cost of FJD $27,470, it is linked with the National Disaster Management Office network and covers 91 villages in 16 tikina.
Speaking at the opening, Jenny Brown, the Project Manager, Climate Change at the Delegation of the European Union for the Pacific, said, ”the important role of communications before, during and after disaster is critical to ensuring the reduction of the loss of life and impact disasters cause on the people of the Pacific and this work is testament to strengthening resilience in the face of great challenges. This work is commendable and a very well-followed lesson from the most recent disaster in Fiji”.
The Pacific Community’s Director of the Geoscience, Energy and Maritime (GEM) Division, Dr Andrew Jones commended the technical approach to this work, saying, “the need for increased communication was identified by Fiji as a priority after the devastation of Cyclone Winston after detailed consultations and country-wide lessons learned research. The renovation of these EOC’s now ensures divisions are able to both engage locally and communicate with the National Disaster Management team to increase coordination in times of crisis and provide robust data and information”.
Other EOC refurbishments funded by the EU include the Lautoka Planning Cell, Nadi District EOC, Tavua District EOC, Lautoka/Yasawa District EOC, Nausori Divisional EOC and its new equipment, Vunidawa District EOC and Nabouwalu District in the Northern Division, Korovou EOC and Central Divisional EOC. The total cost of EOC refurbishments around the country is $FJD 500,000
Refurbishment work has started on the National Emergency Operations Centre in Suva and is expected to be completed soon at a cost of $FJD 192,706.
As the Vunidawa EOC was ressurrected, the arrival of Cyclone Poma in Fiji waters did not go unnoticed amid the celebrations.
Dewai was off in a hurry to catch the next bus back home.
“We can never know what kind of rains come with this one. We must always be ready for the worst and hope for the best.
“It is in these times that we are grateful for such assistance from the EU and SPC, especially when we know that our main link to the world, Vunidawa, is there for us all the time.”