Regional Disaster Response Advisor for the Pacific
The Pacific is one of the most disaster-prone regions of the world. Severe cyclones, floods, landslides and other natural disasters affect the region every year. Although the region is highly diverse, it is characterized by physical isolation, a high degree of dependence on external support to meet people’s basic needs, ongoing governance challenges and a growing HIV/AIDS problem. The effects of climate change, especially a rise in sea level, are also of concern.
In February and March 2005, the Cook Islands and Tokelau were affected by five cyclones in close succession, with Cyclone Percy causing the greatest damage. While there was no loss of life, these cyclones had a devastating impact on infrastructure and agriculture. During the year, floods also affected Fiji and Papua New Guinea. Volcanic eruptions occurred in Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea, resulting in population displacement.
The office of the RDRA for the Pacific, located in Suva, Fiji, provides support to the 15 independent Pacific Island Countries (PICs) in natural disaster management and response preparedness. The office works at three levels: assisting National Disaster Management Offices (NDMO) in capacity building and in coordinating disaster response; supporting RCs and UNCTs in the region; and supporting the broader humanitarian community by providing a systematic flow of information and acting as the UN focal point for disaster preparedness and response.
- Support RCs, UNCTs and NDMOs in their response to disasters in the region
- Provide the broader international community with a systematic flow of information
- Contribute to improving countries’ preparedness and emergency response coordination
In March 2005, the office supported the deployment of two UNDAC teams to the Cook Islands and Tokelau in response to Cyclone Percy. The teams undertook rapid assessment, supported coordination mechanisms and ensured that priority needs were communicated to governments and the international community. The team also helped initiate the preparation of a National Recovery Plan for the Cook Islands and reviewed the existing National Disaster Plan.
In March, the office undertook an assessment of the humanitarian situation on Manam Island, Papua New Guinea, after a series of volcanic eruptions that displaced approximately 10,000 people. After an assessment of the IDP Care Centres and stakeholder consultations, a Plan of Action was presented to the government and UN Agencies. A follow-up mission articulated possible longer-term solutions.
OCHA worked closely with regional organizations to improve the quality and coordination of capacity building support provided to governments through the Pacific Emergency Management Training Advisory Group (PEMTAG), a valuable first step toward a wider collaboration in enhanced response capacity of the region, which will encourage systematic exchange of information on capacity building.
Work on the development of a Catalogue of Disaster Response Profiles was restarted late in 2005 with an expanded group of partners including OCHA, UNDP, IFRC and the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission (SOPAC). A detailed project document was agreed upon to guide the development of the database, which will encompass not only disaster response information but also data relating to disaster risk reduction and recovery.
The office of the RDRA continued to promote greater levels of coordination for preparedness and response activities through meetings of Disaster Focal Points of UN Agencies and NDMOs.
During 2005, the office undertook two series of consultations aimed at reviewing its role in the region and recommending future action. In June, a mission visited Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Australia and New Zealand to get feedback from governments, regional organisations, UN Agencies, RCs and donors. Another mission in December focused on strengthening the UNDAC system in the Pacific. These missions recommended an expanded OCHA presence in both Fiji and Papua New Guinea. A new RDRA and a humanitarian affairs officer for Fiji were identified in late 2005. The Australian Youth Ambassador scheme also deployed an assistant programme officer in November 2005.
The OCHA missions that took place in 2005 found that the work of the RDRA on disaster management and preparedness was not well integrated with that of the UNCTs in the region because a coherent approach in response/response preparedness was not in place, resulting in separate programme planning. Strong linkages with governmental and regional organizations were also lacking. OCHA has taken steps to strengthen its presence in the region by strengthening the office of the RDRA in Fiji and fielding a staff member to support the RC in Papua New Guinea.
The governments and UNCTs in Samoa and Fiji appreciated the support provided by the RDRA in relation to the strengthening of UNDMTs to take charge of response and response preparedness activities. The support of the UNDAC teams in the Cook Islands and Tokelau after Cyclone Percy, supported by the office, was also valued.
Progress on the Catalogue of Disaster Response Profiles was interrupted due to the departure of the DRA in May 2005. A revised project document ws agreed to in late 2005 with joint implementation to begin in early 2006.