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Preparing for emergencies helps save lives in the Pacific

Participants from 16 Pacific Island countries
Source: WHO media release

Nadi, FIJI — Emergencies are nothing new for the Pacific. Disease outbreaks, natural disasters and the effects of climate change are impacting the everyday lives of Pacific islanders.

Responding quickly and efficiently to the needs of communities during emergencies is extremely challenging in the Pacific, as remote communities are often accessible only by flight or travelling long distances by boat or on unsealed roads. These logistical challenges often delay and hamper the efforts of emergency responders to effectively support the needs of communities in crisis. 

This is why Pacific Ministries of Health, National Disaster Management Offices and partners have come together to find innovative and practical solutions to localised emergency preparedness, which will ultimately help to save lives and reduce the health, social and economic impacts of emergencies.    

Learning from each other’s experiences, participants shared some of the challenges they’ve face and solutions on how they have overcome these challenges.

In February 2018, Tonga felt the full force of Tropical Cyclone Gita, the worst cyclone to pass so close to Tonga’s main islands in 60 years, which tested the country’s capacity to respond quickly and efficiently to affected communities.  ‘Whilst TC Gita was a terrible disaster for Tonga, it did give us the opportunity to truly test our local preparedness for responding to large scale disasters. Going through this experience has now given us the confidence to know that not only can we locally lead the response, but also the knowledge on where our gaps are and how to strengthen these’ reflected Mr Mafua Maka from the Tonga National Emergency Management Centre.

Facilitated by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Pacific Meeting on Health Emergency Risk Management workshop, held from 18 to 21 September in Nadi, Fiji, brought together representatives from 16 Pacific Island countries and areas to share experiences, collectively identify practical solutions that will help communities to be better prepared for emergencies, and establish contacts and connections that will help them to implement these actions.

‘Outbreaks and emergencies are inevitable. Without proper preparation it is very hard to provide critical, life-saving support to affected communities in times of crisis. Having the opportunity to learn from one another and identify solutions for strengthening emergency preparedness and response is crucial to helping ensure that the Pacific is equipped to face the next major disaster’ said Dr Li Ailan, Regional Emergency Director for the WHO in the Western Pacific Region.