21 Feb, 2017
“What do you have left when all you can see and touch is lost?”
That was the starting point for deep discussions on disaster response at workshops hosted by UnitingWorld at the Pacific Theological College in the Fijian capital Suva from 15-17 February 2017.
Over the course of three days UnitingWorld’s Regional Coordinator of Pacific Programs Rev. Dr Cliff Bird, Associate Director of International Programs Dr Sureka Goringe, Manager of Church Partnerships for the Pacific Rev. Dr Seforosa Carroll and the Uniting Church’s National Disaster Recovery Officer Rev. Dr Stephen Robinson gave presentations to partner church representatives on the vital role of emotional and spiritual support in disasters.
The workshops took place in the lead-up to the anniversary of Cyclone Winston which struck Fiji on 20 February 2016 with winds of more than 200 km/h, causing 44 deaths, damaging or destroying tens of thousands of homes, and significantly impacting around 350,000 people.
Since Cyclone Winston UnitingWorld has worked with the Pacific regional partners to strengthen humanitarian response and disaster risk reduction capacity. This has included supporting the establishment of a trauma counselling chaplaincy network in Fiji.
Pacific churches involvement in humanitarian work is important because of the pre-eminent place they occupy in their respective countries and the increasing intensity and frequency of climate change driven natural disasters in the region.
UnitingWorld has been increasingly drawn into assisting these responses, which has led to the agency setting up an Emergency Response & Disaster Risk Reduction Program.
In 2016 UnitingWorld joined seven other Church agencies to form the Church Agencies Network – Disaster Operations (CAN DO) consortium. CAN DO consortium members are committed to ensuring that churches of all denominations are supported to increase community resilience to natural disaster.
UnitingWorld and its partners will continue to work together with the other CAN DO agencies and their respective in-country partner churches in cooperation with national government disaster management offices.
“Regional humanitarian response capacity will be greatly strengthened by churches and faith-based development agencies cooperating with each other,” says UnitingWorld National Director Rob Floyd.
Male and female delegates attended the workshops from the United Church in PNG, the Presbyterian Church of Vanuatu, the Methodist Church in Fiji, the Ekalesia Kelisiano Tuvalu, the Kiribati Uniting Church and the United Church in Solomon Islands.
“It is critically important that disaster readiness and response planning be informed by the priorities and insights of women and so the gender balance amongst the workshop delegates is intentional,” said Sureka Goringe, UnitingWorld’s Associate Director of International Programs.
Workshop outcomes sought include the establishment of the counselling chaplaincy network, clearer understandings about humanitarian response planning, development of national disaster response and readiness strategies, and how to leverage the support of regional governments to strengthen the effectiveness of this work in the Pacific.