Some thoughts after Cyclone Pam

The team at Kacific has watched with dismay at the images and stories of the devastation wrought by Cyclone Pam on Vanuatu and other Pacific Islands, including the Solomon Islands, Kiribati and Tuvalu.

A storm of this magnitude would cause damage anywhere, but these images, carried around the globe, show just how vulnerable Pacific Islands are to extreme weather events.

“These islands have become familiar to us over the past 18 months,” said CEO Christian Patouraux. “It’s shocking to see buildings in ruins, debris littered everywhere, roads and bridges washed out, floodwaters surrounding isolated buildings and children bereft of home, family, security.”

“As the international community mobilises in response and the painful work of recovery and reconstruction gets under way the thought in everyone’s mind is ’We need better ways of preparing for and responding to these situations in future.’”

The difficulty is that radio and telephone communications with outer islands have still not yet been established — three days after the monster storm

This story from AP highlights the problem:

Radio and telephone communications with the outer islands were just beginning to be restored, but remained incredibly patchy three days after Cyclone Pam hit. People were expressing their need for help any way they could: flashing mirrors or marking an “H” in white on the ground to signal planes that were surveying the outer islands. …

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that 11 people were confirmed dead, including five on Tanna, lowering their earlier report of 24 casualties after realizing some of the victims had been counted more than once. Officials with the National Disaster Management Office said they had no accurate figures on how many were dead, and aid agencies reported varying numbers.

The confusion reflects the difficulty of handling a disaster that struck whole communities on remote islands with a near-total communications blackout.

“For now the priority is to find, comfort and support the survivors and to begin repairing the damage and restoring some form of normality to these battered areas,” Christian added. “But shortly our attention must turn to preparing better for the next extreme weather event.

“As an organisation we will help now, as we are able to. And we are committed to providing practical emergency support to Vanuatu and to the governments of similarly vulnerable Pacific nations in the future.”