On April 8th, as Ofa Fa’anunu, Director of Meteorology tracks severe Tropical Cyclone Harold (category 5) so is Shifting the Power Coalition Steering Committee member Vanessa Heleta, the Executive Director of the Talitha Project: “As we face the reality and fear of COVID-19, TC Harold is increasing the burden of women first responders to ensure community safety and resilience. But we persist to cultivate resilience to ensure Protection measures are in place,” says Heleta adding that at such times solidarity and support through women-led networks and partnerships provide the necessary support to work together in new and innovative ways that are needed.
According to Heleta Cyclone Gita showed the insurmountable resilience of the girls and young women of Tonga. And it is vital that regional responses, including to the COVID19 crisis invest. Talitha Project is one of the 13 member organisations of the Pacific regional Shifting the Power Coalition (StPC) the only regional alliance focused on strengthening the collective power, influence and leadership of diverse Pacific women in responding to disasters and climate change formed in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam (2015) in Vanuatu and Cyclone Winston (2016) in Fiji.
Members of the Coalition have taken the 2019-2020 Pacific cyclone season update seriously sharing their experiences and working together to support women at local, national and regional levels to mobilise and enhance preparedness, response and recovery. Strategies are being updated to also take into account the COVID19 crisis at national and local level.
Early Assessment by Women Leaders highlight Protection, WASH, Shelter and Food Security as well as Infrastructure priorities
Flora Vano of ActionAid Vanuatu on April 7 reported that an estimated 100,000 people from Sanma, Torba, Malampa, Penama and Shefa will need urgent assistance: “As of 9am NDMO has given an all clear for Shefa, Sanma and Torba and yellow alert for Malampa and Penama province.”
Early assessment shows response priorities include Protection, WASH, Shelter and Food Security as well as Infrastructure. Many homes have lost their roofs, gardens and plantations have been damaged as well. There are also water and electricity outages, and damage to roads and bridges: “In Eton, the Woman I Toktok Tugetha Task Force leaders assisted in the relocation of 10 elderly persons and families. Women leaders are reporting gardens are destroyed and contamination of the Rentapau River caused by the heavy rain is of concern as this is a primary source of water. They will now have to rely on rain water collection. The Eton Task force leader will be conducting a rapid assessment.”
There is no major damage reported from WITTT in Erromango where they expected heavy rain and flash flooding.
Inclusive preparedness and response measures are critical at this time say disability rights advocates.
The Pacific Disability Forum, Fiji Disabled People’s Federation (FDPF) and Vanuatu Disability, Promotion & Advocacy are members of the Shifting the Power Coalition and on April 6, FDPF Technical Advisor Lai Corerega stressed the point of
accessible information: “Persons with disabilities must be kept updated with TC Harold via radio, TV and social media.”
Family members living with persons with disabilities should stock food supplies, assistive devices, hygiene consumables and medications he adds, “In the meantime, stay safe and protected from the COVID-19.”
There is an urgent need for National Disaster Management authorities to update evacuation centre guidelines in light of COVID-19 to incorporate social distancing and isolation procedures if the need arises.
Recent natural disasters have highlighted physical barriers encountered by persons with disabilities prevented them from accessing key services in disaster response.
Members of the Pacific Disability Forum in recent times have reported that physical barriers prevented access to facilities and services provided in the response, such as evacuation centres, meetings and aid distribution sites. The barriers included lack of accessible transport to evacuation centres such as privately owned vehicles or public transport, lack of accessible evacuation centre building structures including WASH facilities, inaccessible information and a lack of partitioning for privacy.
In 2019 PDF brought attention for the need for accessibility standards for the region to ensure that critical infrastructure such as schools and public buildings. Adopting the accessibility standard will strengthen governments and other stakeholders’ implementation of Target D of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015 to 2030.
“Harold hit Honiara badly,” says Ender Rence (writing) from her community Tinge, West Honiara on April 5.
And as TC Harold leaves a trail of floods, household and coastal damage and moves closer to Vanuatu today, it is also bringing a challenge for national disaster response authorities to incorporate disaster response within the COVID-19 prevention strategy.
According to RNZI Tropical Cyclone Harold strengthened to a category 4 system early this morning as it heads to northern Vanuatu, with the latest tracking map indicating it will be a monster category 5 storm (Read: https://www.rnz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/413475/tropical-cyclone-harold-has-rapidly-intensified-to-a-category-4-cyclone)
Rence says that she does not recall such severity since the 1986 Severe Tropical Cyclone Namu which is considered to be the worst tropical cyclone to have affected the Solomon Islands on record: “From a trip I took yesterday to Northern Guadalcanal, Tenaru, Ngalibiu food gardens have been badly damage by water and wind. (damage to homes) depends on where families build their houses. Take for example at upper Sun Valley towards Bloody Ridge and New Zealand camp (these are WW2 names) almost a full community took for shelter to higher grounds.”
One of the community members she met yesterday informed her that shelter and food, in addition to community protection will be an immediate priority.
On April 4 “This is a situation of a triple crisis,” says Flora Vano the ActionAID Vanuatu Programme Manager. ActionAid Vanuatu is a member of the Shifting the Power Coalition.
Vano is referring to what the Fiji Meteorological Service has now named Hurricane Harold. “Harold” is scheduled to hit Vanuatu this weekend.
A RNZI report in the last hour highlighted that Cyclone Harold has intensified to a category two system, with winds of up to 160kph, as it makes it way between Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
Vano, who coordinates the Woman Wetem Weta hub in Port Vila says women leaders have been actively engaged in early warning and preparedness messages as they received information while at the same time working to enhance prevention of COVID 19 at local level:
“On Monday 30th March, AAV Hub sent out 4 sets of messages to our WWW correspondents. Yesterday Erromango WWW correspondents also sent out a preparedness message that they prepared on TC Harold. The reach will be 100 women on the network that will get the message that the WWW correspondent has send and further disseminate to other WITTT Circle members and their communities.”
Harold has already brought heavy rain and floods to communities in Solomon Islands. According to Ender Rence (on Facebook) TC Harold hit Honiara on April 2 and continues continued into April 3:
“Some hundreds of families living along river banks and coastal areas in and Solomon Islands have been badly hit.”
The photos show the damage to communities living along Langa River and upper parts of Sun Valley towards Bloody Ridge:
“Families are sitting down dizzy wanting to lie down and sleep but (they have) nowhere to go.” Homes and gardens are damaged she says describing the deluge like a Olympic sprinter.
And with an eye on the damage already caused the Woman Wetem Weta leaders are on the alert, with RNZI further reporting that the latest tracking threat map indicated it will be a category 3 by the time it reaches Vanuatu:
“Today Tanna WWW correspondents have sent out TC Harold preparedness message that will reach 45 task force leaders and from them they will use their village communication to reach all their sisters circle within their area. The current input data for the network members are 2800 for Tanna alone. The Eton WWW correspondent has been informing the community regarding the preparedness message alongside COVID19 awareness as part of the Task. It is a wider reach as it goes to both men, women, young girls and boys as well as disability and children” adds Vano.