Prepositioned supplies lead to quicker relief from island disasters

Prepositioned supplies lead to quicker relief from island disasters

When it comes to delivering emergency aid to disaster-stricken places, an inventory of readily available relief supplies is critical to an effective response.

Prepositioned supplies stored in warehouses speed up the delivery of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) in the Indo-Pacific, a region plagued by more natural disasters than any other on Earth. Partnerships involving Australia, the United Nations and the United States were instrumental in positioning relief aid for recovery efforts following the assaults by Cyclone Gita on Tonga in 2018 and Typhoon Wutip on Micronesia in 2019.

Prepositioned supplies were vital in the aftermath of Typhoon Wutip, which struck February 19-22, 2019, hitting several islands of the Federated States of Micronesia with winds in excess of 100 kilometers per hour. Items stored in warehouses owned by the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration (IOM) included tarps, ropes and reverse osmosis water purification units. Relief personnel transported the supplies by boat in early March to the affected islands. In April, with funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA), New Zealand and Australia, the U.N. sent food to 23 Micronesian islands suffering from crop damage.

Relief efforts were still underway in late September 2019, when the IOM delivered nearly 85 tons of additional food to 4,327 people living on nine islands, for a total of 168 tons provided.

“IOM is working with UNICEF Pacific to preposition additional emergency relief supplies in IOM’s warehouses,” reported a statement from IOM’s Micronesian mission on October 1, 2019. “Thanks to this partnership, IOM and UNICEF can quickly respond to the next emergency and deliver life-saving assistance to families in need.”

Funding from the Australian’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the U.S. OFDA helped make the partnership possible, the IOM statement added. USAID/OFDA has dispensed U.S. $17 million in disaster assistance to Micronesia since the landfall of Typhoon Wutip.

Cyclone Gita destroyed more than 800 homes and damaged 4,000 others on the small island nation of Tonga in February 2018. “Dignity kits” containing lifesaving supplies related to women’s health and “clean delivery kits” for use in childbirth were among the prepositioned relief packages distributed to the island as part of a U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) initiative. The kits had been stored in an Australian Aid warehouse in Brisbane, Australia, pictured, for such an emergency. Along with tents and other supplies, the kits were distributed to establish secure spaces for women displaced from their homes, according to UNFPA. Support for the initiative came from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

“Strategically prepositioning supplies has enabled UNFPA to respond faster, better and more efficiently to regional humanitarian crises,” stated a UNFPA news release. “Not only are the commodities immediately available to use, preparedness efforts also help to improve the quality of the response.”

USAID/OFDA maintains its own warehouse of prepositioned supplies for the Indo-Pacific in Subang, Malaysia, stocked with emergency shelter materials, blankets, water treatment systems and hygiene kits.

“These critical commodities can be transported rapidly to disaster-affected areas,” the agency said in a statement. “USAID/OFDA also works with the international humanitarian community to give vulnerable people resources to get back on their feet and strengthen their own ability to respond to emergencies.”

Tom Abke is aFORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.