Three months after Cyclone Pam devastated Vanuatu on 13 March, CARE Australia is running a forum that will reflect on the strength and contribution of women in response to the country’s biggest ever natural disaster.
The aim is to increase awareness of the important roles played by women in disaster recovery and response, and to identify recommendations on how to increase women’s involvement in response planning.
The forum, organised on behalf of the Government of Vanuatu’s Department of Women’s Affairs, is being held in Port Vila on 9 and 10 June and will includes over 120 guests from across the country, with backgrounds as diverse as Government, community service organisations, non-governmental organisations and community groups.
“Almost three months ago, Vanuatu was devastated by one of the worst cyclones the South Pacific region has ever seen,” said Charlie Damon, Program Manager for CARE Vanuatu. “We know that local women played an important role in helping families and communities to survive the cyclone and then to recover and start rebuilding their lives.”
“The aim of this forum is to bring together women from across Vanuatu and all walks of life, to discuss their experiences of preparing for Cyclone Pam and keeping their families safe,” said Ms Damon.
“CARE’s almost 70 years of emergency response experience has shown us that in poor communities natural disasters disproportionately affect women. On average, more women die during and shortly after disasters than men. This is why CARE’s emergency response always seeks to understand who is affected in what ways and prioritise assistance to the most in need. We also see it as important to continue to look at ways of improving our responses.”
One of the forum’s participants, Martha Palkon, a 45-year-old mother-of-six from a small village on Aniwa island in the hard hit south, is her villages representative on a Community Disaster Committee that CARE set up in 2013. When she heard warnings that Cyclone Pam was approaching, she alerted neighbours, worked with them to secure their homes and helped move the elderly and children to safer houses. Although there was extensive damage to the community’s fruit trees, food gardens and some houses, no one was injured.
As a member of the Community Disaster Committee, Mrs Palkon had the opportunity to take up roles that can often be restricted to men. During the response she was involved in informing her community about emergency relief distributions. She told CARE the experience made her feel honoured and respected by the community.
“After the cyclone, CARE were the first to reach our village with food supplies – showing that CARE really cares,” said Mrs Palkon.
When the Category Five cyclone hit Vanuatu, more than 180,000 people were affected, but only 11 killed, largely thanks to early warnings and good preparation. More than 13,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, and an estimated 90 per cent of crops were wiped out across the country.
In partnership with governments of the Vanuatu and Tafea Province, CARE has distributed 87 tonnes of life-saving food and 64 tonnes of basic building materials and households items to isolated communities across the islands of Erromango, Aniwa, Futuna and Tanna. On the island of Tanna, in the isolated south of the country, this has also included 7,440 blankets, 2,250 mosquito nets and 1,500 solar lights.