Jason Smith, IFRC, Asia Pacific zone
Nearly 9,000 individuals have been forced from their homes by heavy rains and flooding in the western and central divisions of Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu. According to weather officials, more major storms are set to impact the Pacific Islands.
Five people have already lost their lives, with two additional unconfirmed fatalities, and thousands more have sought safety in more than 100 evacuation centres on Viti Levu. The Fiji Red Cross Society has played a vital role in planning for and meeting the humanitarian needs of many of those displaced during this emergency.
"The Fiji Red Cross Society has taken a proactive role in monitoring this dangerous situation and providing the necessary assistance to affected populations," says the society’s disaster coordinator Vuli Gauna. "Assessments are underway, and we've already sent our emergency response teams into impacted communities with essential relief supplies for families most affected by the floods. If more assistance is needed, we stand ready to help."
In the coming days, distributions of relief supplies will likely include clothing, cooking items, eating utensils, water collection containers, and tools for temporary shelter such as tarpaulins. The Fiji Red Cross Society has 19 pre-positioned containers ready for distributions of emergency items.
“We work as an important part of a mandated coordinated disaster response network in Fiji,” says Fiji Red Cross Society director general Alison Cupit. “We are based in communities throughout the islands and our volunteers work with the government and other partners on both preparedness and response to significant disasters. This collaboration is an essential component of our ability to serve those who need our help.”
In a demonstration of their focus on preparedness, Fiji Red Cross Society volunteers began encouraging families to heed evacuation warnings as early as 8 January, two days before the flooding began, and disaster relief experts have been supporting emergency response activities for the past five days.
Fiji Red Cross emergency response teams are conducting damage assessments which will inform specific elements of their ongoing relief programme. The society’s branch office in Ba has been serving as a temporary evacuation centre and Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers have provided support to families forced to leave their homes in other communities as well.
Warning Fiji residents about the impact of additional storms, Gauna stresses: "We have seen this past weekend what bad flooding can do, so let's learn from this and prepare ourselves for what's coming. Prepare for yourself an emergency pack that contains canned food, dry clothes, warm blankets, a first aid kit, and water to last you two days. These things can save your life."