Vanuatu Urges Global Action on Disasters

Vanuatu Urges Global Action on DisastersVanuatu Urges Global Action on Disasters

Governments meeting in Japan to adopt a new global plan to reduce the risk of disasters should heed the devastation caused by a fierce cyclone in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu and take practical action, the country’s president said.

“The reality of what is happening now is in Vanuatu,” President Baldwin Lonsdale told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview on Sunday in the northeastern Japanese city of Sendai, where the UN conference is taking place. “We don’t have to depend on the theory. We have to be very practical on what is happening, not only in Vanuatu but around the world.”

Vanuatu - a sprawling cluster of 83 islands and 260,000 people, 2,000 km (1,250 miles) northeast of the Australian city of Brisbane - is among the world’s poorest countries and is highly vulnerable to natural hazards, including earthquakes, tsunamis, storms and rising sea levels.

The president said he feared the impact from the tropical cyclone would be “the very, very, very worst” in isolated outer islands but damage was still being assessed. He hoped the number of casualties would be “minor”, he added.

In the capital, Port Vila, 10 deaths have been confirmed, and more than 30 people have been injured. Most homes have been damaged or destroyed, with people seeking temporary shelter where they can, the president said.

Government ministers in Vanuatu have declared a state of emergency. Aid agencies, including the United Nations, are swinging into action after the president appealed for international help in Sendai on Saturday.

  Prepared for Weaker Storms

The country’s climate change minister, James Bule, said people in Vanuatu were aware of what to do when warned about the cyclone because they are used to dealing with storms, albeit of a lower strength. The government has people deployed across the archipelago to make sure communities prepare, he added.

Vanuatu Red Cross Society President Hannington Alatoa told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Sendai that the humanitarian agency’s work to educate people to protect themselves from disaster risks over the past 15 years would have helped reduce casualties.

The Red Cross - which is considering launching an international appeal for the disaster - has worked with the Vanuatu government to set up a disaster management structure, and trained local people to secure their houses and stock up on food and water, Alatoa added.

The president and his team in Sendai are trying to get back to Vanuatu as soon as they can, but they said being in Sendai had made it easier for them to request help from other governments, the United Nations and international organizations.