Vanuatu: Humanitarian agencies support Tropical Cyclone Lusi response

9 April, 2014
March 2014, Santo Island, Vanuatu: People leave the village of Puarente, following Tropical Cyclone Lusi. The storm destroyed the village and left dozens homeless. Credit: Vanuatu Humanitarian Team
March 2014, Santo Island, Vanuatu: People leave the village of Puarente, following Tropical Cyclone Lusi. The storm destroyed the village and left dozens homeless. Credit: Vanuatu Humanitarian Team

Aid groups in Vanuatu are working alongside the Government to support the thousands of people affected by Tropical Cyclone Lusi that swept across five island provinces in mid-March.

Lusi swept through the northern and central provinces of Vanuatu as a Category 2 system between 9 and 12 March 2014. The cyclone left 11 dead and 20,000 people affected across the provinces of Torba, Sanma, Penama, Malampa and Shefa.

Most of the fatalities were women and children from the small village of Puarante on Santo Island. Flash flooding and landslides completely destroyed the village, leaving 60 people homeless. Aerial and ground-based assessments across provinces confirm extensive flood damage and widespread destruction of root crops and fruit trees.

“We are keen to ensure people get the life-saving assistance they need and can get back to normal life as soon as possible,” said Shadrack Welegtabit, Director of the Government’s National Disaster Management Office (NDMO).

"The needs across provinces are widespread and will test the capacity of our humanitarian partners and provincial disaster committees to respond.”

Improving disaster response in Vanuatu

The NDMO is coordinating assessment and relief efforts with the support of the Vanuatu Humanitarian Team (VHT): a network of national and international non-governmental organizations, Red Cross, UN agencies and donor partners who work closely with Government Ministries.

“The VHT was formed to bring together the many agencies working in disaster response and disaster risk reduction in Vanuatu, but who were operating under different mandates and approaches,” said VHT International Coordinator, Jennifer Worthington from the NGO Oxfam.

“We wanted to improve humanitarian preparedness and response, and have more effective engagement between the NDMO, Government ministries and humanitarian agencies.”

Established in late 2011, the VHT is the first country-level partnership of aid agencies in the Pacific Islands. Since forming, the VHT has grown from 10 member agencies to over 50, with coordination support from Oxfam and funding from the European Union.

As part of the response to Lusi, the VHT helped the Government with coordination and assessments across all affected provinces. Over 10 rapid assessment teams travelled to impacted islands to assess the humanitarian needs. Each team included one woman and one gender and protection advisor to address the issues of women, men, girls and boys.

A model for the Pacific

Before Lusi struck, the VHT supported the Government in a number of preparedness activities, including the set-up of disaster committees in each of Vanuatu’s six provinces and training staff in operational roles and assessments. VHT members also worked with the Government to develop emergency guidelines and procedures, which were tested during annual simulation exercises.

“The VHT is the first of its kind in the Pacific and should be seen as a model for how local and international humanitarian partners can support governments to effectively prepare for and respond to emergencies,” said Sune Gudnitz, OCHA Pacific’s Head of Office.

While there has been no request for international assistance as part of the Lusi response, bilateral funding and assistance has been obtained through the FRANZ (France, Australia, New Zealand) partnership, and OCHA is providing information management and mapping support.

OCHA in the Pacific>>

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