Fostering Strong, Multi-Country Relationships in the South Pacific

Posted by Thomas E. Weinz
April 26, 2011
PP2011 Officers With Tongan Leaders in Vava'u

I guess it is human nature to quietly accept all the successes of a particular mission, while secretly obsessing over the details that didn't go as planned. We are certainly doing our share of the latter as we glide across seemingly endless ocean on the way to Vanuatu, nothing but water in any direction. I realize how intrepid the early mariners were, who weren't entirely sure there wasn't an edge out there somewhere over which they might plunge.

Tonga has disappeared from our sight, but everyone aboard Cleveland is working with renewed energy from the eleven days with the people of Vava'u. Among other things, I took part in a two-day discussion on disaster preparedness. Vava'u participants identified their three most lethal disaster threats as tropical cyclones, tsunamis, and earthquakes. They have many hardened shelters in the region to protect from cyclones, but have seen the devastation caused by earthquakes and tsunamis, and recognize the need for an effective local plan and warning system. The New Zealand contingent of Pacific Partnership 2011 (PP2011) on their multi-purpose ship the HMNZS Canterbury, spent the entire Tonga mission at Niuatoputapu, an outlying island about 100 miles north of Vava'u. That area was devastated by a tsunami in 2009, and 10 people died. A fact that saved many lives in Niuatoputapu, and in Western Solomon Islands where PP09 operated, is that people are trained to run for higher ground as soon as they get any warning of an approaching tsunami. A critical item we are discussing in all of our Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief (HA/DR) conversations is some kind of siren or resonant horn system, which could be installed at various points along coast lines. The recent tsunami in Japan clearly exemplified the need for an instantaneous warning system which allows for immediate reaction.

A consistently rewarding aspect of Pacific Partnership for providers and recipients alike is the list of basic services accomplished during every mission. In Tonga, our efforts included providing dental, medical, and vision services to more than 3,000 patients, treating 165 animals, and completing seven engineering renovation and water catchment projects. Our expanding band of participants are reviewing the successes and the challenges to capture all of the "lessons learned" before we make our next stop and continue to foster strong multi-country relationships throughout the South Pacific.

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