ARTICLE – THIS FIRST APPEARED ON REDR.ORG.AU
When flash floods ripped through the Solomon Islands in April 2014, the country and its people were faced with unprecedented destruction. The relentless downpour of rain, caused by a tropical depression which was later grew into Cyclone Ita, heavily affected the capital Honiara and the eastern plains of the Guadalcanal province.
Entire riverside communities and infrastructure, built alongside the Matanikau River through central Honiara, were completely washed away when its banks broke. Overall, the floods resulted in 24 confirmed deaths and displaced a further 50,000 to 60,000 people. This meant that thousands were forced into basic and limited evacuations shelters, with up to 5,500 reported in one centre alone.
As soon the Solomon Islands were struck by the flood, RedR Australia deployed Emma Coll, a Food Security and Livelihood Cluster Coordinator. Throughout her 3-month deployment in Honiara, Emma worked for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) providing invaluable assistance to the local Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAL).
“It was a big priority to get food gardens and cash crops lost to the flooding re-established,” she said. “Around ninety per cent of households in the Solomon Islands rely on their gardens for food and income.”
Emma was part of a team assisting the MAL by improving access and implementation to funding provided via the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank and from global donations. She highlighted that while the MAL has excellent capacity to implement the funding, they lacked the technical capacity and the staff to do so. Emma proved herself invaluable to the emergency response effort, writing implementation plans to use the donations, proposals and structured budgets.
To help repair damage done by the floods, Emma oversaw the funding implemented in recovery activities for food gardens, small scale livestock farmers and cash crops. She was even able to hear first-hand how appreciative farmers were of the funded assistance, with the MAL inviting several of them to her leaving party.
Emma’s team also helped in the development of training and assistance packages for locals, aimed at reducing the potential damage future floods could cause. However, due to a predicted shift to the hotter La Niña weather pattern, Emma highlighted the necessity of preparing not only for flooding, but for droughts too.
To assist in the coordination of the response to the disaster, Emma was one of many who helped consolidate information for Recovery Action Plans (RAP) and Situation Reports. Emma was also involved in revising templates and instructions needed for rapid needs assessments, improving on old models built quickly in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. A simpler process for gathering the information for these assessments was also devised, reducing the time needed from a few weeks to a few days.
While the emergency situation is now entering the recovery phase, Emma said the capacity of the Solomon Islands to respond to disasters is still reliant on international support.
“The government doesn’t have much money left over after their everyday needs,” she said. “So without help from international agencies, it’s difficult to prepare for future disasters.”
Hundreds still remain in shelters, but the Solomon Islands Government and various NGOs will continue to assist those displaced return to their home provinces.