Disaster READY: Small-scale response packs powerful lessons for Disaster READY PNG

Above: An arial view of the burnt homes on Sohaho Island. Photo credit: Google Maps.

Above: An arial view of the burnt homes on Sohaho Island. Photo credit: Google Maps.

As part of Disaster READY Papua New Guinea (PNG), CARE PNG is working with Government of PNG provincial offices to strengthen disaster preparedness, community disaster management approaches and disaster management systems. 

In the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, Disaster READY has been supporting the Disaster Coordination Office with community disaster preparedness and disaster response activities. This support has included assisting the office to establish community disaster management committees. The intention is that, in collaboration with the government, these committees will take the lead on disaster preparedness and response. 

Preparedness work put into action

On March 1 2019, a group of men burnt down a number of houses belonging to government officials on Sohano Island in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, displacing 329 men, women and children. 

The Disaster Coordination Office asked CARE PNG, through Disaster READY, to support them with a multi-sectoral rapid assessment of the emergency. This allowed CARE and the disaster office to put into practice the preparedness work undertaken through Disaster READY and assess its effectiveness.

Plan International Australia led the assessment team, working with CARE PNG and the Red Cross. 

The assessment identified that 25 directly-affected families  were in immediate need of shelter and fresh water. 

Non-food items were distributed on April 10 and the distribution also involved basic WASH awareness-raising activities. A WASH consultant provided training for the distribution team, which included Autonomous Region of Bougainville disaster office staff, CARE PNG staff and staff representatives from other partners in Buka. The distribution was led by the Autonomous Regional of Bougainville Government.

Above: WASH distribution on Sohano Island included the provision of hygiene kits to 150 women and girls.  Photo credit: CARE Australia.

Above: WASH distribution on Sohano Island included the provision of hygiene kits to 150 women and girls.

Photo credit: CARE Australia.

The WASH awareness training included safe water storage, safe toilet practices, hand washing and other basic hygiene and sanitation practices. Attendees included a technical assessment officer and volunteer from the Disaster Coordination Office and a representative from the government’s climate change office in Buka. In addition to WASH training, the distribution team were introduced to best-practice distribution processes in order to avoid disagreements with, or complaints from, the community. 

The Disaster Coordination Office further supported the distribution by providing a boat to transport items from Buka to Sohano Island. Government disaster officers addressed the community to explain the response, including the role of the government and that of CARE through Disaster READY. They also responded to community questions.

Distributed items included hygiene kits for women and girls which contained sanitary pads, underwear, bath soap, laundry powder and other self-care items. In cases where the family home was destroyed, jerry cans, mosquito nets, aqua tabs and oral rehydration solutions were provided 

A total of 150 women and girls received hygiene kits and 26 households received supplementary assistance.  

Lessons for Disaster READY PNG

The Sohano Island response highlighted lessons which will be incorporated into the Disaster READY program in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.

Limited resources within the government partners restricted the involvement of government personnel in the response. This was also partly due to a restructure of the disaster office that was underway at the time. As a result, strategies to better support and enhance partner government involvement in both preparedness and any future responses will be devised. 

Bad weather resulted in delays to the distribution of supplies and also to the post-distribution surveys. Contingencies for poor weather will be made in future, such as ensuring the availability of tarpaulins to cover supplies and prevent water damage. Other lessons emerged around the scheduling of training and beneficiary interviews to ensure higher participation numbers, disaggregating beneficiary data by age and gender to ensure response efforts (such as those associated with menstrual health) are appropriately targeted, and the consideration of cash responses for small scale and localised disasters.