Vanuatu: Tropical Cyclone Donna Emergency Plan of Action (EPoA) DREF Operation n° MDRVU004

A. Situation analysis

Description of the disaster

On 2 May 2017, the Fiji Meteorological Service provided an early alert for a tropical disturbance (TD21F) forming to the north of Vanuatu. Over the ensuing 24 hours TD21F continued to strengthen and by midnight on 3 May 2017 had developed into Tropical Cyclone Donna (TC Donna), a Category 1 system. Moving in a westerly direction, TC Donna passed north of the Vanuatu group as a Category 3 cyclone within 50-100km of the Torres Islands in Torba Province.

The system continued west before turning south and passing to the west of Sanma, Malampa and Shefa Provinces. TC Donna was later classified as a Category 5 cyclone by the Vanuatu Meterology and Geohazards Department as it tracked southwards towards New Caledonia sustaining wind speeds of over 215km/hr. The NDMO issued an all clear on 9 May 2017. TC Donna continued towards New Caledonia and was downgraded to a Tropical Low on 11 May 2017.

The main impact of TC Donna has been felt in the Torba Province, especially the Torres Island group which has an estimated population of 1,022 and comprises the islands of Hiu, Metoma (an uninhabited islet), Tegua, Ngwel (an uninhabited islet), Linua, Loh and Toga. In Situation Report 02 issued on 5 May 2017, the Government of the Republic of Vanuatu NDMO reported a Red Alert in place for Torba province with destructive winds and flash flooding. The cyclone knocked out the Torres island group’s only cellphone tower and caused widespread damage. On 6 May 2017, the NDMO contacted the islands, using the Torres Islands Red Cross VHF radio, and established that while there were no reported injuries, there had been widespread destruction of buildings and crops.

Situation Report 03 of the Government of the Republic of Vanuatu NDMO issued on 6 May 2017 reported a significant number of houses destroyed and the majority of houses damaged across the islands of Torres. There has also been damage to schools, churches, water tanks and water sources. Most toilets have been destroyed and crops have been damaged. Authorities in the Torres Islands reported that there was enough food to last for approximately two weeks, however water sources were contaminated.

The cyclone has also caused damage in the more populated Banks group of islands (also within the Torba Province), with strong winds and localised flooding reported, causing destruction of crops.

A shelter cluster team assessment report, dated 14 May 2017, identifies the total number of households in Torres to be 190 (population: 1,006). Based on the advice and experience of VRCS in the region, VRCS proposes that, for the purposes of planning the NFI distribution and to enable flexibility within the response, this figure be rounded to 200 households.

During TC Donna, 60 evacuation centres were activated across Vanuatu, sheltering around 2,700 people. These evacuation facilities included schools, churches, caves, private houses, community buildings and other public buildings which were identified pre-disaster. All evacuees have since left the evacuation centres and returned to their homes as of 11 May 2017.

Summary of the current response

Overview of Host National Society

Following its experience of Cyclone Pam in 2014, VRCS has made significant investment in developing its capacity and experience in disaster response. Almost 100 volunteers have received emergency response training and stocks of emergency relief supplies are pre-positioned in six depots/warehouses throughout the country. In its recovery operation following Cyclone Pam, VRCS focused on building the resilience of local communities to be better prepared to face future disasters. This included establishing and training community disaster committees.

VRCS has been well prepared for TC Donna. The Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) was activated on 3 May 2017 and a DMIS entry posted on 4 May 2017. Upon confirmation of the development of TC Donna, staff and volunteers in national headquarters and branches were placed on high alert to prepare for the storm and support the evacuation of vulnerable communities as required. A total 300 volunteers were on standby to respond to TC Donna many of whom are trained ERT members.

In addition, VRCS is a key actor in the government’s disaster response plans and together with in-country Movement partners has been sharing information and coordinating closely with the national disaster management authorities.

VRCS updated NDMO on its capacity for emergency response such as the distribution of non-food items (NFI), provision of services through VRCS volunteers and a water treatment unit available for water distribution. A list of ERT trained volunteers was also shared with the NDMO. Further to this, representatives of VRCS have attended different interagency meetings organized by the NDMO including those of the WASH, health, logistics and shelter clusters and the Vanuatu Humanitarian Team. Partners’ coordination meetings have also been convened by VRCS with the Australian Red Cross, French Red Cross and New Zealand Red Cross. In its efforts to engage with other partners, VRCS shared its organigram for the EOC and has been updating the VRCS Website and Facebook pages daily.

Throughout the disaster, VRCS has monitored the cyclone in close collaboration with the NDMO and the collection of data from the field has been coordinated by the NDMO through its extensive network of volunteers in communities, the Community Disaster and Climate Change Committees (CDCCCs), which VRCS have been training in Torba Province since 2010. Volunteers from eight CDCCCs supported the rapid assessments. VRCS has also been in regular contact with the IFRC Pacific CCST Disaster Risk Management Unit in Suva, Fiji.

Since the onset of the disaster, NDMO alerts have been relayed to VRCS branches in all six provinces, particularly Torba, so that the information could reach the most remote communities. The VRCS Branch in Tanna mobilized volunteers for a briefing on how to conduct a first community disaster assessment and complete the associated form while a VRCS team worked with local authorities to clean the water tanks at six evacuation centres on Efate (including three in Port Vila), adding chlorine to the water to make it safe to drink.

In addition, the VRCS EOC has been in close contact with the Disaster Operations Centre at the NDMO, and other Ministries through sector clusters coordinated by the NDMO (e.g. WASH, Health, Shelter, Logistics). VRCS has coordinated its response with the Torba Provincial Emergency Operations Centre chaired by the Secretary General for Torba Province, and at a stakeholder coordination meeting convened by the NDMO to develop assessment and distribution plans, stakeholders agreed that all distribution activities should be channelled through VRCS.

Following discussion and meetings with the NDMO, it was also confirmed that VRCS will support the government with the assessments in Torba Province given that VRCS has a local presence and capacity in the form of 15 ERT trained volunteers. An assessment team consisting of 8 representatives from the NDMO, Vanuatu Police Force, VRCS, Gender & Protection Cluster, Food Security Cluster, Shelter Cluster and Water Sanitation Hygiene Cluster departed for Santo and Torba Provinces on 12 May 2017 to undertake these assessments.
On 12 May 2017, the VRCS assessment team travelled to Torres and as at 15 May 2017 had distributed 175 water containers and 395 handwashing and bathing soaps to the affected communities. Hygiene promotion materials were also taken to conduct promote hygiene awareness in the communities. The Torres Community Disaster Committee of 10 members who are also VRCS volunteers were part of the distribution team on each island and were trained by two VRCS staff on the ground to carry out the hygiene promotion activities.