Reconnecting families in Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam

News and Press Release
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By Madeline Wilson, IFRC

When Cyclone Pam smashed into Vanuatu on 13 March 2015, it not only damaged homes, crops and water sources but also wiped out mobile communications connectivity. As the cyclone bore down on the islands, thousands of families were unable to connect with their loved ones across the country and internationally.

Mariano Griva, a Red Cross delegate for the Restoring Family Links program says people often fear the worst if they don’t have confirmation that their loved ones are safe and well.

“Reconnecting people is a critical need for families after an emergency,” says Mariano “People worry immensely about their loved ones if they don’t have confirmation that they are okay.”

The Restoring Family Links programme is an important service that the Red Cross provides in emergency situations the world over.

“Through their local networks, the Vanuatu Red Cross has great reach across the country and this means we are in a position to be able to help people reconnect,” says Mariano.

“Our teams here in Vanuatu are delivering relief supplies across 15 of the 22 islands affected by Cyclone Pam. This means wherever we go we can also offer the restoring family links service. We have also reached islands beyond those where we are delivering aid. Immediately after the cyclone, we did this mostly by delivering news between loved ones or connecting people over satellite phone, but as communications networks are restored, we are now able to connect people over the mobile network and people are also starting to be able to make their own connections.”

Mark Tomase, an elderly man from Seneali Village on Paama Island, was surprised to meet Mariano and hear that through the Red Cross program, his uncle Willie in New Caledonia had enquired about his well-being.

“I haven’t seen or spoken to Willie in a very long time,” says Mark. “I was very happy to know that Willie is thinking of our family back in Paama.”

Priscilla Rouvoune, also from Seneali Village, is eight months pregnant with her third child and she was grateful to be able to connect with her father in Noumea to let him know she is fine.

“This is the first contact we have had since the cyclone,” says Priscilla. “I told him we lost our house in the cyclone but we are all okay. I told him today we are receiving some support from the Red Cross and he said he is also preparing to send us some things.”

Red Cross has received over 300 enquiries through the Restoring Family Links program and so far 37 links have been re-established. This includes delivering news between family members and facilitating phone calls over mobile or satellite phone.

With mobile connection gradually returning, a number of cases have closed with families now able to make their own direct contact. Red Cross is encouraging people who registered with the Restoring Family Links service to update their enquiry if they have been able to make their own direct contact with loved ones, so the case can be closed.