The category five storm left two people dead and forced more than 23,000 people into 450 evacuation centres around Fiji. Widespread flooding, strong winds, and landslides destroyed schools, homes, farmlands and livelihoods.
“The best response to TC Yasa came through preparedness and proper communication and information about what was coming,” said Unaisi Bakewa, the only woman working with the Fijian Emergency Operations Centre in Tavua.
Unaisi travelled to Tavau to work with the Fijian Disabled Peoples Federation and deliver 50 emergency kits to people with a disability with essential hygiene supplies like adult diapers, sanitary pads, soaps, bottled water and basic food items.
“I go to the community and the people I represent, particularly with disability; I tell them to get ready to go to the evacuation centre. I told them that cyclone Yasa is like cyclone Winston,” she said.
“Many people with disability don’t want to leave their homes, because that is their comfort zone. Because they worry about the transport from their home to the evacuation centre. It is hard. I raised this with the Emergency Operations Centre and government officials so they can arrange transport for these people to the centre.”
Women are chronically underrepresented in decision-making spaces meaning that women’s needs are often overlooked. But when women take a leadership role in emergency responses they consult widely with the community making sure to include everyone’s needs including people who live with a disability.
Women’s Weather Watch connects women from across Fiji to the Fiji Met Office and the National Disaster Management Office informing decision makers and stakeholders of how women’s rights must be applied throughout all stages of disaster.
“As I always say, women are the first responders. We need to be supported and work together to reach out to people in remote areas. Women leaders can go out and share preparedness with the community and the things they can do to prepare themselves during and after disaster.
“Being the only woman working with the Emergency Operations Centre in Tavua, it was really exciting, and it is really important. But it was also really challenging… It has been eye opening for me.”
Unaisi is working with local organisations and the Fijian Emergency Operations Centre to assess the community’s immediate and longterm needs for recovery. With support from the Shifting the Power Coalition, they have already distributed much-needed relief kits to 225 households.
ActionAid Australia is working with the Shifting the Power Coalition, the Fiji Disabled People’s Federation and other local women’s rights organisations to lead a coordinated response the cyclone and to train women as emergency responders for future crises and build a generation of women leaders.