Elizabeth Godo | Palladium - Apr 22 2020
Emergency Response to Category Five Tropical Cyclone Harold

Aerial view of the damage on Santo Island, Vanuatu.
Source: AAP

Countries in the Pacific have been devastated by Tropical Cyclone Harold, the world’s strongest cyclone this year – and at a time when the global community is focused on COVID-19.

Tropical Cyclone Harold first hit the Solomon Islands on 3 April 2020 as a Category 1 storm, growing to a Category 5 by the time it reached Vanuatu on 5 April. Fiji and Tonga were hit on 8 and 9 April, resulting in lost lives, injuries and untold property damage.

“Over 159,000 people in Vanuatu have been affected,” reports Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). “Australia immediately supported Vanuatu's National Disaster Management Office to undertake aerial surveillance to assess the scale of impact. Australia also supported the Red Cross and non-government organisations to release locally pre-positioned relief items, such as tents and water containers.”

In addition to damage to schools and medical centres, initial reports are estimating that up to 100% of traditional homes in parts of the country have been destroyed.

“We’re continuing to work with DFAT, UN partners and NGOs to get relief supplies where they’re urgently needed,” says Peter Diplas, head of Palladium’s Humanitarian Logistics team, which serves as DFAT’s procurement arm.

At the Government of Vanuatu’s request, assistance so far has included:

  • Humanitarian relief supplies (blankets, lanterns, shelter kits, hygiene kits, in-country logistics support)
  • Operational support (health, education, policing)
  • Assistance to local NGOs

In response to Fiji’s request for assistance, Australia is providing shelter kits and tents, kitchen utensils, water containers and personal hygiene items, and funding for NGOs to provide community services such as rebuilding, safe access water, and counselling support.

“Just as Fijian personnel supported Australian communities during our recent bushfires, Australia stands with Fiji as family, as vuvale, in its time of need,” says Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Marise Payne.

Behind the Scenes

Following a natural disaster in the Pacific, a humanitarian emergency response doesn’t happen automatically. When a ‘trigger event’ overwhelms local capacity, the government of the affected country must first ask the Australian Government for assistance.

“At its simplest, humanitarian emergency response is about logistics – getting something from one place to another,” says Matt Everitt, Palladium’s Senior Logistical Support Manager. “From the time DFAT approves the decision to respond, the team can have supply lines mapped, pallets of supplies ready to load on C-17 military planes, and wheels up headed toward the disaster within two hours.”

According to World Vision’s Vanuatu Country Director Kendra Derousseau, the decision to pre-position relief supplies across the Pacific has been critical. “We already know category five cyclones will become the norm, not the exception.”

Prefab Infrastructure Undamaged

In 2019, Palladium implemented a DFAT pilot project to deploy two prefabricated classrooms in Santo, Mwast and Balon, Vanuatu. The objective of the project (called RAPID) was to pilot high-quality, rapidly deployable, prefabricated social infrastructure, procured, shipped, and constructed by Diplas’ team.

“We received word from the school principals on Monday [20 April],” Diplas reports. “Santo was one of the islands hit hardest by Cyclone Harold, but both classrooms were undamaged, and were actually used as safe shelters during the cyclone.”

Palladium has been providing logistical support for the Australian Government’s humanitarian relief efforts since 1987, including responding on the ground to some of the biggest disasters in the Pacific. Contact info@thepalladiumgroup.com to learn more.