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Vanuatu is made up of 83 islands scattered across 1200 square kilometres of Pacific Ocean, leaving remote populations isolated and making access and service delivery difficult. Vanuatu is well established as one of the most disaster prone countries in the world, with cyclones, volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts, and floods among the hazards faced (UNU 2015). On 13 March 2015, Category Five Tropical Cyclone Pam (TC Pam), one of the worst cyclones to hit the Pacific region, struck Vanuatu and other Pacific Islands. TC Pam brought very destructive winds, storm surges, and flooding across huge areas of Vanuatu, destroying homes, schools, health facilities, crops, and livestock and affecting approximately 188,000 people, or 70% of the population (Government of Vanuatu 2015a).
Prior to TC Pam, CARE International in Vanuatu was working to increase the resilience of communities and schools that were at risk of the impact of natural disasters and climate change. CARE’s work included setting up and training Community Disaster and Climate Change Committees (CDCCCs), working to ensure equal female membership of the CDCCCs, providing gender and leadership training, facilitating emergency simulations, providing emergency equipment, and giving training in the use and maintenance of the emergency equipment. Gender and social inclusion were integrated throughout the activities, and attention was given to women’s leadership and participation in community decision making. Efforts to strengthen the provincial and national disaster management systems were also central elements of CARE’s work, including Tafea Provincial Government planning and training, and facilitating a multi-hazard simulation exercise linked to the national and community level. Ongoing capacity support at provincial and national levels, and support for the development of standardised systems and forms, were also part of CARE’s work, together with other Yumi Redi consortia partners (Save the Children, Oxfam and French Red Cross).
Anecdotal and qualitative evidence gathered by CARE and others after TC Pam (e.g. Barber 2015, CARE International in Vanuatu 2015a, CARE International in Vanuatu 2015b, Whitfield 2015b) suggested that CARE’s programming across islands in Tafea Province had a significant and positive impact on communities. This external study was commissioned to obtain more robust evidence of the impact of CARE’s mid to long term gender responsive DRR interventions in the event of a major natural disaster.
This comparative study used participatory methods to draw out analytical insights from the communities to understand the nature of their actions in response to extensive early warnings of the cyclone, the damage and loss experienced, and their recovery. The field team gathered data from nine communities (three communities in each of the three islands of Aniwa, Erromango, and Tanna) and compared the results. The communities on Erromango and Aniwa Islands had participated in CARE’s extensive gender responsive DRR programming before TC Pam. The communities visited on Tanna Island had not participated in this DRR programming before TC Pam, and had not had similar support from any other agency in the years before TC Pam.
At the outset, it is important to recognise that the three islands have quite different cultural and geographical contexts: Aniwa is a small coral island that rises just 42 metres above sea level, Erromango is a large mountainous island with the population scattered mainly around the coast, and the communities visited in Tanna are located around the base of Mount Yasur, an active volcano in the north east of the highly populated island. There are also social and cultural differences between the communities, different language groups, and different religious groups. The study was designed to ensure these were taken into account and the findings have been presented with these differences in mind.