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Being prepared does save lives; Red Cross Samoa’s response to hazards

Education and practical drills ahead of the 2009 Samoan tsunami, saved thousands of lives, according to Red Cross Samoa.

The humanitarian organisation outlined the country’s approach to responding to natural hazards during a panel session at the Pacific Resilience Meeting (PRM) in Suva on strengthening disaster preparedness, response and recovery.

The Red Cross drew on the experience during the tsunami which struck Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga a decade ago, causing extreme damage and the loss of many lives.

Tautala Maualaivao Secretary-General for Red Cross Samoa told the PRM they had learnt from the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami five years earlier.

“We had been running a lot of simulation exercises around communities and then the 2004 Asia tsunami happened and everyone in Samoa saw that and the implications of what a tsunami would mean for a small island nation,” she said.

Ms Maualaivao said that happened during the development of Samoa’s national disaster management plan and it was that preparation was key in saving lives.

“So we started running tsunami drills in most of the villages to ensure that when you feel an earthquake the first thing you do is run [to higher ground] and we think that with the tsunami in 2009 even though there was lives taken, if we hadn’t done that I’m pretty sure we have thousands of lives lost,” she added.

“There has been action and it’s a good way of being prepared, so Red Cross has been very proactive. A lot of our preparations it’s about proactivity, making sure that you are ready you don’t have to wait until disasters happen because it will be too late.”

Part of the work that Samoa Red Cross does is training volunteers, staff and emergency response teams in all aspects of disaster risk management and climate change.

“In that system, we also have expertise around the region and globally which we can tap too if we need experts in all the areas,” Ms Maualaivao said.

“When the tsunami happened we all knew that despite the drills and training, people would panic because they haven’t seen any tsunami happen in Samoa.

“When their loved ones were taken the only thing that they focused on is the loss that came into their lives.

“The goodness of being prepared was that it was alright as teams had been able to carry through with duties.”

Localisation is another area that Red Cross Samoa is working on, Ms Maualaivao told the PRM.

“We can’t do anything unless everyone comes together to help respond. So there have been the teams that we have dispersed to go out and train.”

Ms Maualaiva explained that after the Samoan tsunami the devastated villages were then moved to higher ground.

“There was displacement and because people lost their homes they had no-where to go to,” she said.

“There were a lot of lessons we have learnt because as we progress into the recovery phase of horror we had found out that a lot of pressure was on the people.

“We needed to also consider who was going to fund to help or even support the people during the displacement.  As well as the long-term displacement, a couple of villages where the tsunami hit have been entirely displaced from their usual homes. The good news is they have been moved to their own lands on the top areas which is very developed.”

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