A make-or-break moment for Solomons' small aid community

Members from World Vision's disaster team distribute boxes of bottled water to locals in Santa Cruz, Solomon Islands, earlier this month. Photo by: World Vision

This week has been a major test for the small aid community in sunny Solomon Islands  and today, the tight-knit coalition plans to submit an international funding request to help with tsunami relief.

The country, located in the Pacific Ocean southeast of Papua New Guinea, hosts just dozen-or-so international aid groups which collaborate closely with each other and the island state’s government. On Wednesday, Feb. 6, they sprung into action after a magnitude 8.0 quake prompted a tsunami that has displaced more than 3,000 people and left 11 dead in the country’s easternmost province of Temotu.

Since then, international donors and nongovernmental organizations have been meeting daily with the country’s National Disaster Management Office to discuss relief efforts. Funding needs are relatively low, World Vision officials tell Devex, but the emergency response is complicated by Temotu’s remote location a 3-day boat ride from the capital.

A small number of donors has announced emergency relief following the disasters. Australia pledged 300,000 Australian dollars ($309,393), while the the United Kingdom promised 150,000 pounds ($236,073). The Taiwanese government as well as its World Vision chapter each pledged $25,000, and World Vision New Zealand promised 100,000 New Zealand dollars ($83,431).

“We’re actually getting closer to the [funding] target, and we’re just speaking to donors about a little bit of a shortfall across the different agencies here, which they are hoping to look at today,” World Vision’s country program director Andrew Catford told Devex on Feb. 12.

Catford declined to provide specifics, but said once a more detailed assessment is completed, donors may have to foot a “bigger bill” to fund longer-term recovery work.

The immediate funding request is meant to help aid groups replenish stocks of emergency supplies in Honiara, where prepositioned aid is now nearly depleted. The country is still in its cyclone season, which ends in April. Catford said the “the worst thing that could happen to us now is that another disaster comes and all of our things have been given [to Temotu].”

But while Solomons is home to a small population of over 500,000, relief work remains a challenge in the archipelago of almost 1,000 islands. After the 3-day boat riade to Temotu, aid groups switch to smaller boats to reach affected coastal communities.

The government has a disaster management plan in place. What’s the likelihood that it will be revised in response to the recent disaster?

Catford said: “I don’t think people have thought about that yet. We’re all just concentrating on doing our response.”

Two planes are expected to fly to Lata, Temotu’s capital, on Thursday and Saturday to deliver urgent supplies such as shelter kits, water purification tablets and sleeping mats. Meanwhile, aid groups are hoping the main wharf in Lata where supplies are being unloaded won’t collapse. It was damaged by a 7.0-magnitude quake that hit the island Friday night, two days after the first tremor.

“There are regular quakes, cyclones, tides and even droughts [in the Solomon Islands],” Catford said. “But this is a big quake. So even though the government is prepared, whenever you have a big event, it still is a lot of work.”

There’s only about a handful of international organizations in the Solomon Islands, including World Vision, Save the Children Australia, Oxfam, Adventist Development and Relief Agency, Live and Learn, CARITAS, World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy.

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.