By Corinne Ambler/IFRC

Lessons learned during Cyclone Pam two years ago have ensured Vanuatu Red Cross’ preparations and response to the latest large cyclone to hit the island nation have gone smoothly.

Tropical Cyclone Donna swept across the top of Vanuatu last week as a Category 4 storm, increasing to Category 5 as it tracked south between Vanuatu and New Caledonia.

Despite widespread damage in the tiny Torres islands, there were no fatalities and only one injury has been reported – a woman from Mere Lava island in the banks group who injured her eye.

Vanuatu Red Cross disaster management coordinator Augustine Garae says as soon as the cyclone formed, head office contacted the Torres area council secretary, a former Red Cross staff member, via VHF radio and he warned his community to take shelter.

“We’ve been working in that community for a few years, running a disaster risk reduction project. There are about 50 Red Cross volunteers in the Torres islands, and we have also set up community disaster committees there,” Mr Garae says.

“Through the training we’ve done with all the community disaster committees and area councils, they’re now all part of the Red Cross Movement.”

The value of Red Cross VHF radios was also proven during the emergency, with the Vanuatu government’s National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) able to make contact with the Torres island community through the Red Cross Torres radio.

After Cyclone Pam in March 2015, Vanuatu Red Cross trained 100 volunteers in emergency response and set up 16 community disaster committees. Two new warehouses were built in Port Vila and Santo for storing disaster relief supplies.

These warehouses will supply aid to around 900 of the most vulnerable people affected by the storm. When weather allows, Vanuatu Red Cross will take water containers, water purification tablets and soap along with a water engineer, water technician and health promotion officer on the first small plane into the Torres island group. A helicopter will be used to ferry goods and Red Cross staff between the islands.

“More detailed assessments are now coming in from the ground, and it is becoming obvious that the priority is water. If we don’t act soon there is risk of an outbreak of water-borne diseases because all toilets have been destroyed,” Mr Garae adds.  

“But the community is coping. They’ve reduced their vulnerability through training and become resilient. They’re helping each other, they’ve been in this situation before and they all know each other.”

It’s thought 60 per cent of all houses in the Torres island group are damaged and a third of crops have been destroyed. The only cell phone tower is down and there is also damage to schools and churches.

Vanuatu Red Cross chief executive officer Jacqueline de Gaillande says the experience of Tropical Cyclone Pam meant her team acted quickly, because it knew how even a weak cyclone could quickly turn and become a devastating storm.

“We were not complacent and we did not wait. We sent branch officers who were in Port Vila for a training back home straight away, and all our volunteers and staff were ready and on standby,” she explains.

“The NDMO very quickly put messages on the radio and sent SMS’s, and we were quick to share information from our branches and volunteers with the NDMO. They knew our capacity to respond and started talking to us early on, because they knew with our network we would be able to help them.

“Our partners in country from Australian, New Zealand and French Red Cross were also very helpful and here just at the right time. I am very pleased with the way everyone has worked together to help those impacted by the cyclone.”

Anyone wanting to help those affected by Cyclone Donna can donate via the Vanuatu Red Cross website: www.vanuaturedcross.org/donate


When a disaster strikes people are always keen to help. To make a lasting difference in the affected communities, we ask people to donate money instead of goods. If you have second-hand goods you no longer need, Vanuatu Red Cross suggests selling these goods in a garage sale and donating the money to Red Cross.

Why do we need money and not goods?

Communities recover faster when we source goods locally, as it injects cash into the local economy. Cash is also easier to collect, transfer, distribute and account for than unsolicited goods.

What are unsolicited goods?

Unsolicited goods are donations that have not been requested or organized by the disaster authorities. They are goods that often arrive with no prior warning and do not meet the internationally recognized priorities and standards required by the relief operation.

What kind of problems can unsolicited goods create?

·         Collecting, storing and shipping donated goods takes time. Often, by the time the goods arrive, the emergency relief phase is over and priorities have changed.

·         Importing items can damage local retailers and affect market prices. An effective way to aid recovery is by restoring livelihoods and local economic activity. Where we can, we source emergency relief goods locally.

·         Non-standardized relief items can be difficult to distribute in a fair way and can lead to community conflict.

·         Unsolicited goods can clog up ports, creating delays. It can also leave Red Cross with large quantities of unneeded goods, sometimes at great cost (such as customs clearance and wharf fees).

Vanuatu Red Cross has six per-positioned warehouses across the country stocked with brand new emergency relief items. These are ready to distribute immediately after a disaster. This system means everyone in an affected community gets the same, high-quality items.

Expire foods

Expire foods

Vanuatu Red Cross appreciates your interest in supporting our work and hopes you understand the reasons why donating cash is preferable to donating goods.

Update 1 on Red Cross Action

Vanuatu Red Cross is well prepared and ready to respond to the needs of those most affected by Tropical Cyclone Donna. We have 300 volunteers on standby throughout the country, many of whom have been trained on Emergency Response Teams (ERT).

Once assessments have been done we are ready to distribute emergency relief items such has tarpaulins, water containers, kitchen sets, shelter kits and hygiene kits.

We have cleaned the water tanks at six evacuation centers on Efate including three in Port Vila and have added chlorine to the water to make it safe to drink.

An emergency operations center and response team have been set up at Vanuatu Red Cross headquarters and we have pre-positioned stocks in six branches throughout the country.

The Red Cross is working closely with the government and other partners to ensure the response is coordinated and is taking part in daily briefings at the NDMO.

Vanuatu Red Cross has taken the lessons learned during Cyclone Pam two years ago and has increased its disaster management capacity. We are closely monitoring the situation and ask the public to listen to the radio for updates and look out for text messages from NDMO and Meteo.

We ask people wanting to help to donate cash rather than goods so we can better target the needs of the most affected communities.

Tropical Cyclone Warning Number 14 for TORBA and SANMA

Tropical Cyclone Warning Number 14 issued by the Vanuatu Meteorology and
Geo-Hazards Department, Port Vila at 8:58am VUT Friday 5 May 2017 for

At 8:00am local time today, Severe Tropical Cyclone Donna (Cat 3) was
located at 12.5 degrees South 166.0 degrees East.The system is positioned
at the left center of square letter F, number 2 (F,2) of the Vanuatu tropical
cyclone tracking Map. This is about 110 KM northwest of Torres and
225 KM northwest of Vanua Lava. The system is moving in a west direction
at 16 KM/HR in the past 3 hours.

The central pressure of the system is estimated at 960 hPa.Winds close
to the centre are estimated at 145 KM/HR , gusting to 205 KM/HR.
Severe Tropical Cyclone Donna is forecasted to be at 13.1 degrees South
165.1 degrees East within the next 06 to 12 hours.

Very destructive hurricane force winds of 145 KM/HR gusting to 205 KM/HR
will affect TORBA province today and continuing tonight. 

Destructive storm force winds of 95 KM/HR gusting to 135 KM/HR will affect
SANMA in the next 12 to 24 hours.

Damaging gale force winds of 75KM/hr gusting to 105 KM/HR will affect MALAMPA
in the next 24 hours.

Forecast Positions
Date and Time PositionIntensity
+06 hours (2pm, 5 May)12.8S, 165.5E80 KTS (150 KM/HR)
+12 hours (8pm, 5 May)13.1S, 165.1E80 KTS (150 KM/HR)
+18 hours (2am, 6 May)13.4S, 164.7E80 KTS (150 KM/HR)
+24 hours (8am, 6 May)13.7S, 164.5E80 KTS (150 KM/HR)
+36 hours (8pm, 6 May)14.3S, 164.3E80 KTS (150 KM/HR)
+48 hours (8am, 7 May)15.1S, 164.3E80 KTS (150 KM/HR)

Very destructive winds and very rough to phenomenal seas with heavy swells will
affect TORBA and SANMA. Heavy rainfall and flash flooding is also expected over
TORBA, SANMA, PENAMA and MALAMPA especially over low lying areas and areas close
to river banks. Coastal flooding is also expected.

The Vanuatu National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) advises people, that
Red Alert is now current for TORBA province, Yellow Alert is now current for
SANMA province. For actions on this alerts,call the office of the NDMO on 22699
or 33366.

The next warning on Severe Tropical Cyclone Donna will be issued at 12:00pm.
People overTORBA and SANMA and PENAMA, MALAMPA and SHEFA should listen
to all Radio Outlets to get the latest information on this system.

This warning is also available on VMGD's website www.vmgd.gov.vu