Vanuatu, located in the South Pacific, is one of Australia neighbouring countries. Usually known for pristine beaches, beautiful surroundings and a vibrant atmosphere, Vanuatu was struck by a category five cyclone earlier this year. Cyclone Pam ripped through the country destroying everything in its path and has been described as the worst natural disaster to ever hit the pacific region. The cyclone left a devastating aftermath, with over 75 000 people needing emergency shelter, while 96% of food crops were destroyed.
After Cyclone Pam had dissipated Vanuatu’s government began a flash appeal to raise much-needed funds for the thousands of people affected by the cyclone. Approximately 166, 000 people were affected by the cyclone, 110, 000 of which were left with no access to clean drinking water. Jotham Napat, chairman of the National Disaster Management Committee, said the country would need at least $US29.9 million to respond to the crisis over the next three months.
Australia is one of Vanuatu’s most important economic partners, and provides much of its tourism. Annually the Australian government spends over $60 million on aid in Vanuatu. Due to the severity of the cyclone, the Australia Government has pledged ongoing support, as well as a further $10 million dollars to help aid in the rebuild of Vanuatu. Since the passing of Cyclone Pam the Australian government has also sent more than 11 military planes with equipment, lifesaving supplies and humanitarian support personnel on board.
Australian medical workers have also set up ‘make-do’ hospitals, which have treated over 600 people over the past few weeks. On top of this, organisations such as The Red Cross have helped to raise $6 million dollars that will further go towards aid in Vanuatu. Thanks to a national ABC promotion, $2 million of this money was raised in only one weekend. It is events such as natural disasters that really begin to highlight the strong relationship between Australian and its neighbouring countries, as well as the generosity of Australia as a whole.
Although there were over 100, 000 people affected by the cyclone the death toll managed to remain relatively low, with only 11 confirmed fatalities. Many experts believe that there were several contributing factors to this such as traditional knowledge and improved communication. Residents of Vanuatu have been dealing with the effects of natural disasters for thousands of years, and to some degree have learnt how to cope. Generally, most buildings are designed to withstand strong winds. Usually the buildings are largely constructed of bamboo, local timber and the roofs made of pandas. According to Professor Margaret Rodman, from the New York University, this directly contributes to a low death toll. Materials such as bamboo are extremely light which means “you’re not dealing with masonry falling on people” (Rodman, 2015). The materials used for building in Vanuatu are also quite absorbent, which means they don’t create the huge pressure differences of modern structures, again helping the low death toll.
Another major factor that contributed to such a low death toll was the improvement in communication. For the first time warning messages from the national meteorology service were issued via SMS. Technical problems involving the national radio broadcasting station meant that radio bulletins were not reaching all of Vanuatu’s 65 inhabited islands. Thus, the SMS warnings were some of the countries residents’ only way of knowing where the cyclone was and when it was going to hit. Initially the warnings were sent out three hourly, but as Cyclone Pam began to intensify and reach landfall the messages became more frequent. This gave residents the largest possible time to prepare and brace themselves for the impact of the cyclone. After speaking to some of the people situated in the outer islands of the country, Kiery Manassah, a spokesmen for the Vanuatu Prime Minister’s Office, revealed that the only way people in these islands were receiving information in regards to the cyclone was via the SMS system. Manassah also went on to say that he has no doubt that the SMS warning saved numerous lives.