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Red Cross prepares for cyclone season in the Pacific

With a least four major tropical cyclones expected to hit Pacific Island nations this summer, Red Cross is standing ready to help people prepare, respond and recover.

Monday November 24, 2014

Australian Red Cross
Young people in Fiji are being trained to prepare for cyclones, including evacuation procedures. Photo: IFRC/Rob Few

"The risk of tropical cyclones in the region is higher than normal in El Nino years," says Steve Ray, International Emergencies Manager at Australian Red Cross. "We will likely see seven or eight named tropical cyclones in our region, of which at least four are expected to be severe."

While Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga and Samoa are at most risk, Red Cross has been training local disaster response teams across the entire region as well as stocking relief supplies and ensuring that disaster preparedness plans and evacuation procedures are in place.

The Pacific is especially vulnerable because many island communities are geographically isolated, making it difficult to assess the damage caused by a cyclone, let alone transport relief supplies to those affected. This is why Red Cross is helping these small communities to act as first responders in their own right.

Being prepared for a disaster involves a number of steps. We work with communities to map the path of a typhoon and identify exposed and flood-prone areas. This process often suggests practical ways to reduce risk, for example clearing debris to allow drainage and prevent flooding. Then we work together on evacuation plans, with special consideration for the elderly and people with disabilities. We train volunteers from the community to manage evacuations, organise rescue activities and provide first aid. Finally, we make sure that stocks of relief supplies, often stored in shipping containers, are placed in accessible locations across the Pacific.

Australian Red Cross is on standby to help anytime a disaster strikes in the region. We have a register of trained specialists in emergency response, shelter, health and sanitation, as well as equipment that can rapidly provide drinking water in emergency situations. Australian aid workers are based in Fiji and Vanuatu to coordinate disaster response activities across the region. Australian volunteers are also on the ground: in Fiji, they are helping local Red Cross branches and their communities to be ready for a cyclone; while in Vanuatu, they are supporting government authorities, the national airline and Red Cross to work together in the event of a major disaster.

Our Pacific neighbours are also learning from each other. Staff from Fiji Red Cross travelled to Solomon Islands to assist when Honiara flooded in April 2014; and Micronesia Red Cross has supported Palau Red Cross to train a community response team. This collaboration across the region provides the best chance of protecting lives and livelihoods during cyclone season.

"Because these events happen year after year, we can learn from each one and be better prepared for the next," says Steve Ray.

Donate to Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery to help us to be there whenever we are needed.

What's the best way to help people affected by disaster?

The best way to help is before the disaster ever strikes. It's vital that people in disaster-prone areas recognise warning signs, know where to evacuate, make their homes safer and protect their valuables. It's just as important to have local emergency response teams on the ground. When you donate to Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery, you help put those things in place.

Should I donate goods?

Red Cross does not accept or distribute goods donated by the public to communities affected by disasters. This is because we cannot store or transport the donated goods, and it is better to purchase relief items locally or as close to the area as possible.

Can I volunteer when a disaster strikes?

Australian Red Cross does not send volunteers overseas during a disaster or emergency response. In these instances, we would only send trained specialists who have experience working in international emergencies and with Red Cross. If you want to help people in our region prepare for disasters yet to come, consider volunteering for a year through the Australian Volunteers for International Development program.

Can I donate now to help communities prepare for the disaster season?

Yes. A donation to Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery will support our everyday work with communities in Australia and overseas.