Pacific nations overwhelmed by support

  • 10/07/2015
Vanuatu Mobile Force personnel unload aid supplies from Australia to Vanuatu (Reuters)
Vanuatu Mobile Force personnel unload aid supplies from Australia to Vanuatu (Reuters)

By Lisa Martin

Pacific island nations have told of how overwhelmed they feel by the sheer number of aid agencies coming to their rescue following cyclones and other natural disasters.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is hosting a Pacific Island Forum foreign ministers meeting in Sydney today which is examining some of the lessons learnt from Vanuatu's recovery from Cyclone Pam and discussing funding for disaster preparedness.

She called for the Pacific to unite against the threat posed by the increased frequency and intensity of cyclones.

"Our strong neighbourly links have never been more apparent than during times of hardship," Ms Bishop told the PIF foreign ministers meeting in her opening address today.

Secretariat for the Pacific Community director-general Colin Tukuitonga said more effort needed to go into training up disaster management agencies so they can lead and help co-ordinate the response better locally.

In the immediate aftermath of Cyclone Pam officials were overwhelmed by the task at hand and the sheer number of aid groups on the ground, he said.

"They appreciated the generosity but said could you please give us some space so we can better organise ourselves and communicate what's required," he said.

"There's no shortage of people wanting to do good things but often it's not well planned and co-ordinated."

He said small island nations needed all the help they can get accessing climate change mitigation and disaster management cash.

Countries were looking at a range of funding options rather than just waiting for the generosity of countries such as Australia, New Zealand and France.

Some island nations such as Tonga had taken out insurance, he said.

The meeting is set to conclude with a spot of sports diplomacy.

Ministers will meet rugby stars with Pacific island heritage now with Australian Rugby Union clubs, including NSW Waratahs Sam Lousi (Maori heritage) and Tolu Latu (Tongan heritage) in the afternoon.