Cyclone Winston was the first ever Category 5 cyclone to hit Fiji. Despite a tiny presence on the island, Oxfam was able to scale up and respond, as Lara McKinley reports
In the aftermath of Cyclone Winston, Oxfam’s Fiji Country Director Dolores Devesi visited Nasiriti, a village nestled in the highlands.
Dolores has worked for Oxfam in the Pacific for 15 years but has never had to coordinate a response on this scale.
Our Fiji program was modest — we worked through local partners, rather than directly with communities — and Cyclone Winston was the worst storm on record.
Initially predicted to be a category 3 cyclone, it soon turned into a monster. Winds reached more than 325km/h. Villages in its path, including Nasiriti, were flattened. More than 150,000 people were left homeless. Schools were destroyed and water systems damaged. Forty-three people lost their lives.|
Dolores says she went into Nasiriti preparing for the worst and she was right. The community hall was the only thing left standing.
Humanitarian response coordinator Jennifer Worthington said she knew we couldn’t do the work on our own.
“People didn’t know us, they knew our partners," Jennifer says. "[Our partners] had the best links into the communities. They knew where to go, who to work with.”
Jennifer says a key part of Oxfam’s role was to help with coordination — not only with our partners, but with agencies and the government. “We wanted to only work where we could add value. Prioritising is critical. Collaborating is critical. Without coordination, everyone can waste effort and time.
For Dolores, our local partners and the local leaders in villages like Nasiriti are the real heroes.
“Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to do much," she says. "All over Fiji, people say to me, ’We are stronger than Winston’. And I really believe that. People are building back better. Communities will be better prepared for another big disaster."