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Cyclone Pam – Building Resilient Partnerships

An Alert for an Integral Response was raised on 14th March 2015 for Cyclone Pam which devastated the nation of Vanuatu. Ten Integral Members responded to this emergency and coordinated their activities at each stage of the response. A regional meeting was held in August 2015 between Integral Members TEAR Fund NZ, Tearfund UK, Transform Aid International and TEAR Australia and their partners. They planned the rebuilding work further, and looked at how they could together develop a Pacific Disaster Risk Reduction strategy for this disaster-prone region. Lea Davis, TEAR Australia’s Regional Team Leader for the SE Asia and Pacific Island Nations, shares with us about this meeting …

Photo: Field Strategy Meeting in Vanuatu between Integral Members and Partners

Do you have any observations about the Integral response to Cyclone Pam?What has been the most positive aspect, and what has been the most challenging?
I very much appreciated the opportunity to visit Tanna Island and see the work of our partner Nasi Tuan. Although it is only 4 months since the cyclone, the affected communities have managed to get back on their feet again. The most positive aspect for me was to see the ways these communities have pulled together under the able leadership of Nasi Tuan. Their cultural traditions of community seem to have been enhanced and strengthened by this catastrophe and they appear to have become even more committed to looking after each other. 

What was the purpose of the strategy meeting?
A major vulnerability for the Pacific Island nations is their exposure to natural disasters, which are being made worse in magnitude and frequency by climate change. Most of the populations live very simply just above subsistence level. Their housing and livelihoods are relatively fragile, so their wellbeing is almost always at risk. Although most Islanders are very tough, they are having to adapt to new environmental and meteorological challenges which their current levels of resilience, though considerable, are not sufficient. The push towards increasing community and individual resilience to disasters is coming from most of the Island Nations themselves, and there is already considerable work going on in parts of each country, some of it from within the churches. However, local resources are thin on the ground, as is training and capacity building.

The need is for locally-driven and inspired responses for increased resilience. My own view is that Pacific Islands don’t need any more ‘solutions’ devised and delivered from outside. This is why, at least from TEAR’s viewpoint, we are looking to support our local Pacific partner NGOs and other civil society organisations to strategise and design resilience-building programmes. Being indigenous and drawing on local creativity these programmes will be appropriately acculturated and will fit within local expectations and capacities. Our role as external supporters will be to provide financial resources where requested, technical support when not locally available, and supportive partnership. 

The discussion we had as an Integral group with the local partner Ola Fou was very detailed and careful. As the ‘outsiders’ we sought to ensure that we listened carefully to our local colleagues. Ola Fou is very committed to its core mission of developing youth leadership in the Pacific – seeing this as key to a better future for these nations. 

I believe we achieved a position by the end of the meeting where the Ola Fou staff did not feel pressured to give an answer to the various partnering options before them.  I observed the wise and prudent way they negotiated within the meeting, the maturity revealed in the face of being offered the possibility of a very large amount of funds. To put it in Aussie terms ’they were not starry eyed’. I also have to salute the Integral participants – there was a lot of give and take and humility, which made the discussions very positive and fruitful. As the discussions go forward, I hope that we can ensure this state of affairs continues.

Tell us about any personal meeting highlights …
The maturity and prudence of the Ola Fou team, their grace in the pressure of that meeting and their adherence to their mission – I see this as a core strength of this small indigenous agency. I appreciated their slight ‘push back’ on the matter of the design and the write-up of the DRR proposal. When it seemed that this might be something that might possibly be done for them, in consultation with them, rather than by them – they said, ‘No – we’ll do the design and write up the proposal. It’s good for us to do that’.  They are keen to develop these kinds of skills. As far as the proposal design is concerned, they acknowledge they will need guidance, and will gladly accept the able assistance of TEAR Fund NZ. 

Tell us about any highlights from the trip overall
Having said a lot about Ola Fou, I have to mention our other partner Nasi Tuan – this tiny agency with very few staff, but enormous energy and commitment. The way they work – sticking to what they know best and refusing to deviate into activities that could take them off track – brings respect and willing cooperation from the communities, even the new ones that they’ve known only for a few months. Their leader, Jeffrey, leads by example, with great humility and respect for the local culture. He emphasised this respect for culture to us on several notable occasions during the visit. It was obvious that the rate of take-up by communities of new cropping and planting techniques is enhanced by the way these are introduced – starting from current knowledge and developing ideas and new skills from there.   

Is there anything you find particularly inspiring about Integral?  
I see Integral as a useful workhorse for the Kingdom with enormous potential for setting up a model of collaboration and cooperation with local/indigenous partners.  I’m glad that we have Integral as our ‘broker’, if you like, when there are disasters. I do also see, though, that we are all still feeling our way and learning, and finding efficiencies on the way. 

What is your hope going forward regarding the ongoing Integral collaboration for Cyclone Pam?
I think that the recovery on Tanna is going to plan, and is being well managed. That will continue, I hope, and in another two years we will see these communities a whole lot more resilient to disasters. I do hope that part of the Nasi Tuan programme with the communities will be DRR capacity building – it makes sense that this should happen. It may be that less funds may be needed for the livelihoods component over time so this would make funds available for DRR activities. 

If possible, I’d like to think that Integral might consider this current collaboration on the Pacific DRR Capacity Building as possibly producing a general model for DRR in other disaster-prone countries and regions. Tearfund UK’s work, for example, in Bangladesh is one such model from South Asia. 

Any other reflections …
TEAR is grateful to have been invited to be part of this Integral Pacific collaboration. The Pacific is close to us geographically, and also to our hearts, so we do want to expand our partnerships there. Thanks for this opportunity to be included at the start of this promising process.