Vanuatu: Disaster training saves lives

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Port Vila, Vanuatu

“Have you got enough death bags?” 

We don’t need death bags. I know my communities are trained to reduce the risk of disaster.

This was the question posed to Karl George, Emergency Management coordinator for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Vanuatu as Cyclone Pam bore down on the vulnerable South-Pacific archipelago. 

“We don’t need death bags,” he responded. “I know my communities are trained to reduce the risk of disaster.”

As part of ADRA’s established program in Vanuatu, Mr George manages the Community Disaster Committee (CDC) initiative and is responsible for the training and support of communities as they prepare and activate what have proven to be life-saving plans.

In every community in which ADRA had completed the training there was no loss of life. While a small number of minor injuries were reported, and many homes remain without water or electricity Karl is adamant this fact alone proves their worth.

As part of the CDC program, ADRA works with community representatives to identify risks, prepare contingency plans and conduct community drills to ensure everyone is prepared.

“The committees identify a safe house, train families on how to prepare a ‘safe-pack’ in case of evacuation and ensure the elderly, disabled and vulnerable are cared for,” said Mr George.

Importantly they also provide guidance on how to safely use water and latrines following a disaster.

In addition, the committees will ensure crops are specifically grown and stored for use at the safe house, clothes put away and an evacuation map created and distributed.

“When a community is given warning of an impending disaster the CDC will pull the community together to prepare by cutting trees and clearing pathways,” explains ADRA Vanuatu country director Mark le Roux.

“And, when the disaster has passed, the communities rally together to rebuild in an organised fashion, provide counselling to those who need it, and quickly complete impact assessments to inform the government.” 

According to Mr le Roux, Disaster Risk Reduction activities, such as the CDCs, are a key part of all ADRA Vanuatu’s development activities.

“Working with communities to boost economic sustainability, literacy levels, access to clean water and food security is key to securing long-term development,” he said. 

“So too is ensuring they have the skills to protect these achievements from disasters. Establishing CDCs and other disaster risk reduction initiatives must continue to be a priority.”

ADRA’s CDC program works in collaboration with and through the support of Vanuatu’s National and Provincial Disaster Management Office.