Vanuatu is an island country located in the South Pacific Ocean. It is highly susceptible to natural hazards, such as floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and cyclones. In April 2020, Tropical Cyclone Harold, which is the most powerful storm to hit Vanuatu in the last two years since Cyclone Pam in 2015, ravaged Vanuatu's islands and caused significant damage to the communities while the country was on COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Thousands of families were severely affected and displaced, buildings were damaged and flattened cutting off electricity and water. Through Vanuatu's government combined efforts and engagement with several private sector members, the Vanuatu Business Resilience Council (VBRC) successfully implemented its response and recovery plans throughout the affected islands.
ABOUT VANUATU BUSINESS RESILIENCE COUNCIL (VBRC)
The Vanuatu Business Resilience Council (VBRC), established in October 2017, is a standing committee of the Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) and a network member of the Connecting Business initiative (CBi) and Pacific Islands Private Sector Organizations (PIPSO) Pacific Business Resilience Network.
One of the primary roles of VBRC is to coordinate the activities and strengthen the engagement of the private sectors with the government in disaster preparedness, response, and recovery activities, including climate change adaptation and mitigation within Vanuatu.
VBRC's Executive Committee comprises of local business owners and private-sector leaders fully engaging with the government, civil society, donors, and development partners to work closely together to meet the organization's mission and goals.
DISASTERS AMID THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
The cost of disasters to communities worldwide is increasing, and Pacific Island countries are considered some of the most vulnerable. According to the World Risk Index, Vanuatu is the world’s most at-risk country for natural hazards. For example, with roughly 250,000 inhabitants, earthquakes place, on average, 90,000 per year at risk. The same holds for storms or rising sea levels of one meter, putting about 30,000 people at risk. Sixty-four (64%) percent of Vanuatu's citizens are exposed to natural hazards every year. When a disaster hits Vanuatu, the entire country is affected - including the capital. Vanuatu is a unique example of understanding disaster vulnerability holistically.
In 2020, the COVID-19 global pandemic added complexity to preparedness efforts and severe challenges to how countries respond to sudden-onset disasters, such as tropical cyclones.
In this regard, whole-of-society collaboration and coordination are critical. That is, to be more inclusive in expanding the role of local aid organizations and private sector networks, recognizing that these partners have a deep understanding of context and culture and a solid capacity to leverage local networks. Countries have placed restrictions on movement to contain widespread COVID-19 impact. In this new reality, delivery of aid has been disrupted, including challenges with the movement of disaster-response workers. Another challenge is that local communities may view aid workers potentially carrying the virus from their home country, highlighting the need for engaging local actors in the delivery of response and early recovery efforts.