On 20 February Tropical Cyclone (TC) Winston, the most powerful cyclone ever to strike Fiji, cut a path of destruction across the country. The eye of the Category 5 cyclone packed wind bursts of up to 320 kilometers per hour, causing widespread damage and affecting up to 350,000 people – equivalent to 40 per cent of Fiji’s population. Recognizing the severity of the disaster, the Fijian government requested international assistance.
The Field Coordination Support Section (FCSS) of the Emergency Services Branch deployed a 15 person UNDAC team to support the immediate coordination of humanitarian assistance in Fiji, together with the UNOCHA Regional Office for the Pacific (ROP) in Suva. Soon upon arrival, UNDAC established the Reception and Departure Centre (RDC) at Nadi International Airport to congregate incoming UN and NGO workers, as well as other arriving international capacit including Emergency Medical Teams (EMT) and Search and Rescue Teams.
The United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) placed one team member within the Minister for Disaster Response’s Office to support the strategy and planning of the ongoing response to facilitate the work of Civil-Military Coordination Officers for the optimized use of national and foreign military assets to meet urgent humanitarian needs. Moreover, the UNDAC team established three field observations teams to undertake rapid damage assessments. Over the course of some days, the teams visited 130 sites, both urban and rural, using the Kobo platform. The team rolled out the largest field test of Kobo in a natural disaster response to-date. Data collected was used to inform OCHA’s response strategy by quickly highlighting, with a sufficient amount of detail, areas that would require the most amount of support.
In many cases, UNDAC representatives were the first members of the international humanitarian community to visit heavily damaged coastal areas. Support was further provided to the strategic planning process, including Flash Appeal and CERF, for the Government and the Humanitarian Country Team to structure better the response of the wider humanitarian community. The Information Management Unit, together with two MapAction volunteers, collected operational information and provided situational awareness, in particular by producing a number of detailed maps and infographics on some of the hard to reach islands of Fiji. As key structures had been established and effectively handed over and with the support of OCHA ERR staff coming in, UNDAC began gradually scaling down its presence and preparing for the departure of its team.