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Emergency Communication Lacking in Vanuatu Cyclone Recovery Effort

03/17/2015

With the telecommunications and electrical power infrastructure in Vanuatu knocked out by the Category 5 Cyclone (hurricane) Pam, which struck the Pacific archipelago over the weekend, no organized emergency communication system has stepped in to fill the gap. Many locations have not been heard from since the storm hit. The extreme storm, with winds in excess of 155 MPH, caused severe damage throughout Vanuatu’s 60 islands, devastating many communities, including the capital of Port Vila. The number of deaths is unclear, but the storm displaced thousands of residents, and recovery is expected to take a very long time. There are few Amateur Radio operators in Vanuatu, which has a population of approximately 250,000. Over the years the idyllic location has been a haven for tourists and DXpeditioners (Vanuatu is number 102 on ClubLog’s Most Wanted DXCC List). No communication has been heard from many of Vanuatu’s islands, but relief teams and supplies have begun arriving from Australia and elsewhere.

Ironically Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale was in Japan at the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction when the cyclone struck his country. He made an emotional plea for humanitarian assistance and has since returned to Vanuatu. The BBC has reported that residents of some stricken regions have taken to drinking seawater, since no fresh water is available, and people have been scavenging for food. Drinking salt water can lead to dehydration and death. Vanuatu is one of the region’s poorest nations.

During the US conference, held in Sendai, International Amateur Radio Union Region 3 (IARU R3) was represented on a panel organized by the International Telecommunication Union Development (ITU-D) Sector. The panel also included delegates from Japan, the Philippines, and Uganda.

IARU Region 3 Secretary Ken Yamamoto JA1CJP, explained how Amateur Radio can contribute to Disaster Risk Reduction. He stated that radio amateurs can convey warnings and/or rescue requests in the early phase of a disaster and can provide grassroots communication between evacuation shelters and disaster relief organizations. He said Amateur Radio was a good resource of trained communicators.

Nicolas D. Ojeda Jr, the Philippines’ Deputy Executive Director, Information and Communications Technology Office, Department of Science and Technology, told the panel that Amateur Radio was very helpful in maintaining communication between communities and disaster relief organizations following Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013.

Japan’s Vice Minister for Policy Coordination, Ministry of Internal affairs and Communications Yasuo Sakamoto expressed appreciation for the international cooperation in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and for mobile phones that provided voice/data communication.

Responding to a question regarding cooperation between radio amateurs and government entities and the response time to establish Amateur Radio communication in case of disaster, Yamamoto said that agreements between member societies or local radio clubs and national relief agencies and local governments would be beneficial for maximum coordination during a disaster.

Vanuatu’s remote location and lack of aircraft landing sites has made relief efforts difficult. Port Vila more than 1100 miles northeast of Brisbane, Australia, and some 1400 miles north of Auckland, New Zealand.— Thanks to Jim Linton, VK3PC, Chairman, IARU Region 3 Disaster Communications Committee; news media accounts

 

 



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