National emergency managers and disaster response organization representatives from the Republic of Kiribati joined Pacific Partnership personnel for a disaster response workshop at the Kiribati Parliament, July 25.
More than 20 participants attended the day-long event consisting of presentations and panel discussions from nine experts representing the nations of Australia, Canada, Kiribati, New Zealand and the U.S.
The goal of the workshop was to discuss disaster response roles and increase collaboration between countries and organizations that would possibly respond in the event of a disaster affecting the nation of 32 low-lying atolls in the Pacific Ocean.
Although no major disasters have happened in Kiribati in recent years, Akoia Kietau, a Kiribati representative from UNICEF, said she considers the workshop important and worthwhile.
“We haven’t come across any big emergencies or disasters, but it’s better to be trained just in case,” said Kietau. “The presentations this morning on preparedness were very helpful to me.”
Presenters covered topics such as civilian response stakeholder roles and responsibilities, the UN cluster approach to disaster response, the Kiribati Red Cross disaster plan overview, World Health Organization roles and responsibilities, the Kiribati national response plan and post disaster infrastructure assessment.
Educating the leadership in Kiribati about the availability of international coordination for disaster response is important to do face-to-face, said Canadian Forces Army Capt. Jean-Martin Brault.
“It’s important to build ties,” said Brault. “Eventually if we meet again things are easier because we already know each other.”
A panel of representatives from civilian and military entities in Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. described their respective capabilities in responding to a disaster in Kiribati and then answered questions from the group.
Several questions surrounded shortage of rainfall and thus shortage of drinking water, the seemingly most relevant possible disaster for the approximately 100,000 residents of Kiribati.
Panelists said the goal should always be to take preventive measures before a problem, like a shortage of drinking water, is elevated to the level of a disaster.
Throughout the 11 days Pacific Partnership members worked in Tarawa, several water catchment systems were assessed and 30 biosand filters were donated to schools, clinics and community centers to provide healthy drinking water for more than 11,000 people.
The majority of the workshop focused on collaborating and organizing efforts between nations who each bring unique skill sets needed in a disaster such as transportation, communication, logistics, healthcare, food, drinking water and shelter.
“In the modern world when smaller nations face major disasters, many nations want to help, but that help needs to be coordinated,” said Australian Army Capt. Kendall Crocker, a civil affairs officer familiar with small island nations in the Pacific Ocean. “We need to have these cooperative exercises so that we better understand what each of us brings to the table.”
Pacific Partnership 2013 is a collaborative effort of military members and civilians from 10 partner nations including Australia, Canada, Colombia, France, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, New Zealand and the United States that improves maritime security through disaster preparedness.
Press Release, July 29, 2013; Image: Pacific Partnership