Saving lives when disaster strikes
Moana is a woman on a mission. Growing up in Tonga, she knows all too well the death and destruction that tropical cyclones can cause. But as a Community Disaster Risk Manager with Act for Peace’s local partner, she’s also seen how the right training and preparation can save lives. With extreme weather events on the rise, she won’t rest until all Tongan people have the knowledge and skills they need to stay safe when emergencies hit.
Richard Wainwright / Act for Peace
176 small islands make up the Pacific nation of Tonga. The 100,000 people who live there are extremely vulnerable to devastating natural disasters – in fact it’s the second most at risk country in the world – and that risk is increasing every year as a result of climate change. Tropical cylones are the biggest threat. They bring heavy rain, strong winds, large storm surges and leave widespread destruction.
Most Tongans have experienced the terror of a cyclone. Many have lost their homes and known friends or family members who have been killed or injured by a cyclone in the past. As well as the damage to buildings and crops, without disaster plans in place, remote communities were also often left without safe drinking water or adequate food supplies.
But recently, thanks to your support and the passion of people like Moana, communities have been able to develop strategies for extreme weather events that are minimising the destruction and loss of life caused whan disaster strikes.
In the case of Tropical Cyclone Ian, which struck Tonga in January last year destroying 90 per cent of homes in the Ha'apai Islands, this preparation saved countless lives.
“Ian was really damaging because it was a Category 5 storm. I have never seen anything like the damage of that cyclone before. But, luckily the work that we had done with Act for Peace in disaster training meant lives were saved. The degree of the hurricane was so bad, was so huge and very strong, but we managed to have only had one person die.”
Moana travels from island to island on small boats training village leaders in disaster preparedness. She’s often away from her husband and two twin daughters, aged 10, for days on end. It is a tough job, but she’s extremely dedicated to it. “I’m even more committed to doing this kind of work after seeing the positive outcome after Ian. I like to work with my team passing on the messages to the people out there who don’t know a thing about how to reduce their risk associated with disaster. I know in the future this will keep them safe.”
Moana works with community leaders to design and implement emergency action plans specifically for their village. This often includes building evacuation centres (or restoring old ones) and ensuring there is access to safe, clean water by installing water tanks or setting-up water catchment areas. She then runs training to ensure everyone knows and understands their village action plan. The training is focused on practical things families can do to keep themselves safe, ensuring people know what to do before, during and after a cyclone, and how to evacuate.
Tongan culture places a lot of importance on personal relationships. Moana has a double degree in Management and Industrial Relations, but it’s her warm personality and way with people that makes her so good at what she does. She’s welcomed with big smiles and open arms in every community she works with. This trust is crucial to the success of the program, and reflects just how much people value the support she’s giving them.
“I like working with people from all walks of life. They appreciate what we do in terms of raising people’s awareness on disaster…they also appreciate that we pass on knowledge to them and help them build and grow in their own villages.”
Moana’s work is part of a program run by Act for Peace and our partner, the Tongan National Council of Churches. With your support, the team are planning to train people on every one of Tonga’s 36 inhabited islands. Their aim is to ensure all Tongan people are prepared – and stay safe - when the next disaster hits.
“We believe that this work is very important and we are saving lives. We are committed to helping our Tongan people.”
Your gifts are saving lives.
You gave over $66,000 to the Tonga appeal in March, thank you! Your gifts will help equip communities with knowledge, resources and tools that will reduce the risks they face from natural disasters such as cyclones. So far more than 6,000 individuals have been trained in disaster risk reduction, benefiting 468 villages. 3,000 school children were also provided with education materials and given training so they can become future advocates for reducing disasters due to intensifying climate patterns in the Pacific Islands.
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