Vanuatu builds resilience

The Lord Mayor of Port Vila Mr Ulrich Sumptoh receives a Certificate of Commitment from the UNISDR's Making Cities Resilient campaign presented by SRSG Ms Margareta Wahlström. (Photo: UNISDR)
By Andy McElroy

SUVA, 29 October 2015 – The Lord Mayor of Cyclone-hit Port Vila says the word ‘resilience’ now carries real meaning on the streets of the Vanuatu capital, an achievement he cites as one of the proudest of his time in office.

Weeks after Cyclone Pam devastated large parts of his city in March, Lord Mayor Ulrich Sumptoh travelled to Seoul to deliver a passionate ‘call to action’ to 1,500 fellow mayors and local government leaders at the World Congress of Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI).

His rallying cry prompted the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) to team up with ICLEI Oceania to train city officials, local chiefs and various civil society representatives, in particular women’s groups, on the Ten Essentials of the Making Cities Resilient campaign.

“As a result of that workshop my colleagues in the city and many others now fully embrace and understand the concept of disaster resilience,” Lord Mayor Sumptoh.

“The initiative also helped many people and organisations better understand their roles and how this relates to others. Overall, it means we are better placed to deal with future disasters.”

The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) for Disaster Risk Reduction, Ms Margareta Wahlström, presented the Lord Mayor with a Certificate of Commitment from the Making Cities Resilient campaign.

In a short ceremony at this week’s Pacific Disaster Resilience Meeting, Ms Wahlström praised Mr Sumtoh and the citizens of Port Vila for their resilience as they continue their recovery from the devastating impact of Cyclone Pam.

Port Vila’s 44,000 inhabitants represent a fifth of the country’s population, which is dispersed over 65 inhabited islands (out of a total of 83) that stretch 795 km north to south. The Lord Mayor said the capital was ‘building back stronger’ while admitting the road to recovery was a long one.

Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu from 12 to 14 March. The Vanuatu Government estimates the economic damage to the whole country at US$ 449 million, almost two-thirds of GDP.

Vanuatu featured prominently in this year’s International Day for Disaster Risk Reduction which focused on how traditional knowledge protects people and assets from disaster. Traditional community cyclone shelters (nimaleten) on Tanna Island – a 40-minute flight south of Port Vila – were nominated as a champion community in the Pacific as part of the International Day.

The roof of the nimaleten characteristically slopes down all the way to the ground, making it difficult for the wind to gain a hold and blow the roof off.

UNISDR is relaunching the five-year-old Making Cities Resilient campaign to fully embrace the priorities of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. A City Resilience Scorecard has been developed and the Ten Essentials for disaster resilience have been revised.

The campaign continues to go from strength to strength and now has more than 2,800 member cities in 119 countries.

In addition to Port Vila, representatives from two other municipalities received certificates: for Lami Town Council, Fiji, Acting CEO Ms Selaima Maitoga; and for Rakiraki District, Fiji, CEO Mr Rakesh Chandra.
The Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction 2018, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 3-6 July 2018 The Asian Ministerial Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction 2018, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia 3-6 July 2018.
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