By Navinesh Kumar, IFRC
When a natural disaster strikes, one of the first things people ask is, "Where is my family? Are they safe?"
The aftermath of Cyclone Winston was no different, with people all over Fiji and across the globe trying to get in touch with loved ones who have been out of reach since the cyclone made landfall in Fiji on 20 February. As a result, Fiji Red Cross Society received numerous enquiries from people concerned about the safety of their family members, friends and loved ones.
As a member of the global Family Links Network of the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement, Fiji Red Cross plays a crucial role in helping people reunite with their families or get in touch with them following a natural disaster.
“Fiji Red Cross is committed to the essential service of Restoring Family Links (RFL),” said Filipe Nainoca, Director General of the Fiji Red Cross Society. “We have appointed a focal person who will be based in our National Office in Suva to assist people who are trying to locate their family members and loved ones in Fiji.”
35 people have registered themselves or their missing relatives on the RFL dedicated website and over the phone with the National Society. So far, nine of these cases have been resolved.
Sonam Sapra from Suva has not been able to get in touch with her family in Taveuni, north of Fiji.
“My family is currently displaced in Waiyevo Taveuni. The far South end of Taveuni Island,” Sapra said. Along with approximately 4,000 other people, her family is in desperate need of drinking water, shelter, food and medical supplies.
“My brother and grandfather are stuck in Taveuni as well. It’s impossible to reach to them as the communications lines are all down,” Sapra added.
Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will be supporting the RFL focal person at the national society with training on how to handle, record cases and restore contact between family members.
“The ICRC Red Cross's Regional Office for the Pacific, based in Fiji, immediately offered its support to the Fiji Red Cross to help meet this need,” said Natalie Deffenbaugh, Regional Detention Delegate in the Pacific for ICRC.
Ms. Deffenbaugh further added that apart from the training, the focal point also received communications support. While communications and electricity are still out in many parts of the country, the Red Cross assessment and response teams are being briefed on RFL needs and equipped for a response in remote areas, where they can help convey short messages that people are "safe and well."
“The ICRC is also facilitating the deployment of an RFL expert who arrived in Fiji on Saturday for an initial period of one week to support the Fiji Red Cross,” she concluded.
If you are looking for a family member, or would like to inform your family that you are safe, please register at http://familylinks.icrc.org/Fiji/en/Pages/Home.aspx.
If you do not have access to the Internet, you can also call the Fiji Red Cross on +679 3314 133 ext. 112, or +679 873 8803, or speak to a Red Cross staff at the nearest branch. All family links services are free of charge.