Responding towards the recent ‘dual crisis’ (a natural disaster and public health emergency) is unique in a way that this was the first time where we must address two emergencies in the same period. It is extremely challenging given that we have to respond to the need of the affected population in a short time space, mobilizing the limited resources we have and enduring long working hours.
My work requires me to wear two hats in emergency responses, one of which is the Cluster Coordinator for the Fiji WASH Cluster and this involves coordinating response effort conducted by Cluster partners (CSOs, FBO etc.) whilst, the other role is about coordinating the WASH response efforts of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services. Providing humanitarian efforts for the dual crisis have proven to be an excruciating experience especially for TC Harold when having to deal with moving relief items/resources from lockdown zones to affected maritime areas and coordinating staffs that are located outside of the lockdown areas to work in affected places. Simultaneously, keeping our response efforts to COVID 19 in check.
As a humanitarian worker, we are recognized for the courage and passion to serve despite being in a risky situation. However, the truth is, we’re also vulnerable. Sometimes, we’re not only the responders but in some circumstances, we’ve also become one of the survivors. We endure long working hours, fatigue and travelling to remote places. While it has been challenging, to me personally, it is an enriching encounter and lifelong learning.
In carrying out my work, difficulties were encountered. With COVID-19, additional challenges included travel restrictions in place to outer islands prior to TC Harold which hindered movement of humanitarian workers and WASH relief items from lockdown areas. In order to address the issue and prevent risk of spread of COVID 19, we were being instructed to mobilize only those that live outside the lockdown areas to travel and provide response efforts and ensure that movement of relief items adhere to COVID 19 preventative measures (i.e. physical distancing, wearing of mask, minimize interaction and disinfection of trucks). Managing available resources (i.e. WASH supplies) was critical to ensure priorities within both emergencies are addressed efficiently and the most affected and vulnerable populations are being assisted.
These challenges were addressed through proper and timely coordination of resources and response efforts on the ground with Cluster partners.
I believe that our work has made a difference as the overall output of the response and recovery effort has seen a nil/lower incidence of WASH related diseases such as diarrhea and typhoid in TC Harold affected communities. Additionally, WASH relief items were also distributed in COVID 19 lockdown areas such as Nabua Settlement, Soasoa, Dreketi and Ba.
WASH needs of the affected population are being met in a timely manner despite the restrictions in place due to COVID 19. We continue to visit, advocate, train and work with our communities to encourage empowerment and engagement for better health and well-being which is crucial in post disaster periods. Ultimately, it also builds and instills resilience in them.