An inspiring example for tackling climate change: a conversation on disaster preparedness in Vanuatu

The coast is scattered with the remains of several shipwrecks. They are a reminder of the devastating impact of Cyclone Pam, a Category 5 tropical storm that hit the archipelago of Vanuatu in March 2015.

As I stand by the sea, looking at the remains, I can only imagine the destruction on 13 March 2015, when thousands of buildings were ruined and some 75,000 people were left homeless.

Cyclone Pam was one of the worst disasters to hit Vanuatu. More than 160,000 people were estimated to have been affected by the cyclone – more than half of the country’s population.

Peter Korisa from the Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office shares with me memories of that day and recalls the damage caused by the cyclone. His office is part of the Ministry of Climate Change and Adaptation and is responsible for the coordination of responses to emergencies and 

disasters across Vanuatu.Relief efforts

Soon after the cyclone hit, ITU dispatched emergency telecommunications equipment to support relief coordination efforts.

“We are grateful to ITU,” Peter says. “The equipment helped us coordinate the response with the other  islands.” Vanuatu is an archipelago made up of 83 islands.

The World Risk Index 2018 ranks Vanuatu as the country with the highest disaster risk.

Every village and community in the archipelago is exposed to natural disasters such as cyclones, floods earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and climate change of different scales and magnitudes on a regular basis.

Peter tells me that coordination is crucial when a country prepares for disasters.

“We work together with stakeholders, non-governmental organizations and other partners on projects to reduce risks,” he explains. “We involve local authorities and have set-up disaster committees and clusters to coordinate our response.”

UN Secretary-General Guterres visited Vanuatu last May and said that it is one of “the most disaster-prone countries, made worse by the global climate emergency.” However, he added that he “saw first-hand how the Pacific island nation is facing threats with determined climate action.”

Indeed, Vanuatu is an inspiring example for climate action, including in the area of disaster risk reduction and managementGlobal guidelines

As ITU is in the process of finalizing global guidelines to assist national authorities and policy-makers in the development of national emergency telecommunication plans (NETPs), Vanuatu is one of the first countries to have requested ITU’s support. The NETP promotes communication and information sharing across all levels of government, within communities at risk, and between public and private organizations and is a concrete step for better preparedness. ITU is currently developing plans in Vanuatu, Guatemala, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, and Solomon Islands.

“How can technology help in disaster preparedness and response?” I ask Peter.

“Technologies can greatly help in response and planning,” he says. “ICT solutions can support decision making.”

After Cyclone Pam hit, drones were used to evaluate the situation, particularly since cloud cover obscured satellite images. Some 200 flights were flown and the imagery taken from the drones allowed relief workers to determine which houses were unrepairable compared with those that could be fixed, helping to guide funding and recovery efforts.

As I stand by the sea and look at the shipwreck I cannot but think that the country with the highest disaster risk is an inspiring example for the opportunities of ICTs for climate action and adaptation.

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