‘A community of responders’: Strengthening logistics preparedness in Polynesia

For participants from the small South Pacific island nation of Tokelau, the journey to Polynesia’s first humanitarian logistics preparedness workshop was not as simple as jumping on a plane. Scattered across three atolls in the Pacific Ocean and with no access to air transport, the Tokelau delegation had to first make their way to Samoa, 480 kilometres north and a 24-hour boat trip away, before flying through to Tonga for the week-long event.

The challenges of distance, travel times and limited logistics infrastructure are not exclusive to Tokelau. During times of disasters, humanitarian responders across Polynesia, and the wider Pacific region, are regularly faced with the unique logistics constraints posed by the area’s remoteness. Polynesia alone is made up of more than 100 islets, islands and atolls scattered across thousands of kilometres.

These challenges were discussed during the 5-day logistics preparedness workshop held in Nuku’alofa, which brought together 40 emergency responders from five Polynesian countries – Cook Islands, Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga and Tuvalu – as well we regional actors.

"This week was no different. These five days brought together a community of responders working together in a participatory, inclusive and empowering manner: collaborating, learning, sharing ideas, exchanging solutions for a stronger logistics response.”

“Disasters are becoming more frequent, and with greater intensity. We need to ensure our capacities, from national level right through to first responders in remote communities, are equipped with the logistics tools and information needed to respond effectively,” said Vea Aniseko, Logistics Officer at the Tonga National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO).

The humanitarian community in Polynesia is faced with a range of disasters: from flooding and cyclones to tsunamis and earthquakes. Most recently, in February this year, responders worked round-the-clock responding to Category 4 Cyclone Gita which swept across the South Pacific.

Convened by the World Food Programme’s Pacific Office, as lead of the Pacific Logistics Cluster, and the Tonga National Emergency Management Office (NEMO), the workshop provided a key opportunity to share ideas and knowledge specific to the region.

“Localisation is central to our logistics preparedness work. This event was built on championing local knowledge and providing support towards the development of holistic, nationally-led work plans across the region,” said WFP Pacific’s Logistics Coordinator, Jenna Lusaka.

Throughout the week participants took part in presentations on logistics themes including coordination, prepositioning and stockpile mapping, warehousing, unsolicited bilateral donations (UBDs) and capturing logistics data at community level. On day 4, attendees had a chance to apply their skills and knowledge gained across the week in a day-long disaster simulation based on an earthquake scenario.

The workshop in Tonga was the second of six proposed workshops to take place across the Pacific’s three sub-regions (Micronesia, Melanesia, Polynesia) over the next three years.