• Written by Aulia Rahman
    24 May 2023

I grabbed the document just a second after it came out from my printer at home, it was 5 minutes away before the taxi came which took me to the airport for a flight bound to Denpasar, Bali, then Brisbane, and finally the final destination for this trip, Port Vila, Republic of Vanuatu. A day earlier, Stefan Kraus, my colleague based in Canberra, Australia, talked to me, and asked whether it is possible for me to tag a long to Vanuatu, for supporting the disaster respond’s assessment after the Tropical Cyclone Pam hit them hard three week earlier, on March 13-14. So the trip arrangement was away from demanding organizing. 

For me personally, this is the first time I work on the disaster respond sector, so I was proud of the Government of Republic of Vanuatu, in time like this, as I saw in my hand, was an official invitation from their Ministry of Foreign Affairs to undertake a mission, providing assistance in providing emergency response together with UNICEF for WASH (Water Sanitation and Hygiene) rapid assessment.

No time for jet lag! That’s what I found myself into when I am in Port Vila, from my home base; Port Vila is 4 hours earlier in the time zone. The long haul flight took almost 20 hours including transits. But the last hour of the flight was so much awaited, just half hour before landing, the green territory of Vanuatu which I remembered from my last trip in June 2014, was totally vanished, what I saw, most of the trees, huge ones, ripped off from the ground, and you can tell, that all those big trees were left alone without its leafs. Most of houses left without roofs, and debris were everywhere. Some blue, red, or green tarpaulins were also next to the damaged house, painting my view from above; those must be emergency tents, which the community built for their temporary protection.

Stefan arrived late in the evening the same day on Saturday. He had 3 bags; the heaviest one is the logistic supplies for the rapid assessment in the field, a bag full of mobile phones as much as 15 units, and about 12 units of gigantic power banks with 12.000 mAH of capacity each. We closed the first day with rumbling ourselves into serials of cables and electricity sockets, making sure all units are recharged and ready for the planned assessment ahead.

The first thing we had on Sunday was a whole day meeting with Andrew Dow, A WASH Expert from UNICEF, whom we are in contact with. There was no final survey that time. All we had was a set of survey that needed to be revised from few inputs. The WASH survey itself is one of the components in a team that will be deployed on Tuesday and Wednesday; a team will consist of 6-7 persons. The other components would be Gender, Health, and Food Security. All the data that were collected then will be used by The Government and UNDAC-OCHA (United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination – Office for The Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), to decide next important and strategic decisions.

Time Is Ticking

I hate Monday, usually. It was full and packed Monday. Early briefing in the morning with the whole stakeholders and actors, and post lunch briefing with smaller teams, and ended the day with a refreshment training for enumerator that will be deployed by Tuesday and Wednesday. The refreshment training for enumerator was a flash. As much as 16 participants attended the training that was given by Stefan. Most of them have been using AkvoFLOW intensively for the past months. They were DGMWR (Department of Geology, Mines, and Water Resources) staffs, and few from NGO; ADRA and Learn to Live. Their work previously was mapping the water inventory across the island using AkvoFLOW. But Monday that time was energizing, loved it so much.

Tuesday finally came. Again, early morning was general briefing for all stakeholders, there were Australian Army, New Zealand Army, French Army, UN bodies, Humanitarian NGO, and much important the Vanuatu NDMO (National Disaster Management Office) staffs. Some of the enumerator was deployed on Tuesday, and some of them were deployed on Wednesday. The arrangement of these deployments was made by the availability of the aircrafts, helicopters, boats, and ships. It was huge arrangement, and pulled out massive resources. Looking at those, Stefan and I said this to ourselves, “This assessment must work!”.

So then, Tuesday and Wednesday has passed. We put everything in a zippered-plastic bag, a phone, a power bank and its cable, a pen, and few copies of the survey in a paper form, in case they running problem with the power, and of course God was in the bag too.

Waiting is never fun, at Thursday, we almost did nothing significant, except meeting some new entity, talking about data management, visiting UNDAC-UNOCHA office, and some coordination. What we were in was waiting for the whole teams to arrive at NDMO office by afternoon. Unfortunately, some miscommunication occurred, so when team hitting Port Vila after the extraction, the phone and the data was never get thru us, not until we texted everybody to spare their time dropping by NDMO just to hand over the whole zippered-plastic bag package to us. It was hard request from us, we know, tomorrow Friday is the Good Friday where most of the people just want to gather with their family, but again, hat off for all the enumerator, they know in time like these, they understand that holiday is postponed until next year. Last phone we had that day was around 8pm.

Friday, I’m in love.

I feel bad for Stefan, my flight schedule has been fixed and will be leaving early Friday morning to Sydney – Denpasar, Bali, then Surabaya, and we supposed to be in the same flight until Sydney. But since we still have homework, so Stefan decided to extend the trip for himself until Saturday, because we need to present the analyzed data to the UNICEF and of course to the NDMO stakeholders. So, Thursday evening was managing the phone to connect the hotel wifi, and let the phone send the data automatically, as well some manual input for some paper based survey which some of the enumerator ran out the power on their phone/powerbank. But we have team in the other part of the world, Amsterdam, and in the opposite of Vanuatu where we were heading late in the evening, the Amsterdam team is up and shine. Josje Spierings and Annabelle Poelert managed to work and analyze the data by downloading what has been uploaded into the Vanuatu dashboard.

I was so happy finally back to proper infrastructure, that had been a week since my last contact with my family, the text didn’t get thru, and the internet connection was unable to connect me via Skype, missed them so much. But I was also relieved knowing the Akvo able to support the collaboration of UNICEF and DGMWR to conduct IRA (Initial Rapid Assessment) on WASH sector in the disaster response need. The collaboration between the ground team and Amsterdam team was amazing too. Just within few hours, the basic analysis of the data came through when Vanuatu side having the sunshine on the Good Friday Holiday, and you can see it here. From personal messaging service, Stefan let me me know that all was good, the data presentation was awesome, and WASH sector was the only sector that came up with data analysis right after being collected from several locations, while other sector need to wait from the paper based recapitulation.

While writing this back here in my hometown, I was over a cup of Arabica Tanna Coffee, a volcanic grown coffee from Tanna Island, one of the islands that was heavily damaged by the Pam Cyclone, which I grabbed last minute before on board the plane that will fly me back to Indonesia. The coffee taste is amazing; it is sweet, soft, and winey. The taste itself resembles the Vanuatuan people, they are humble, friendly, and most of it, during this disaster time, and they are one of the resilient people I have met. Again, we salute the government, partners, and the people that we were engaged with, they have most of the spirit to recover back from the disaster, I hope for not too long, everything can be settled again.