First of all, the work you’ve done with Tonga is very impressive and detailed Chris!

While Pacific island nations have a few intrinsic benefits compared to other countries (smaller population = easier to coordinate between different organisations addressing a given disaster, or in the case of Tonga, Clusters), they also have considerable challenges. Tonga itself is composed of several islands that are quite isolated from each other; a tsunami could very easily damage infrastructure or transport that would limit the ability of other nations, or of other islands within Tonga, to respond to affected areas. Local resilience-building measures are crucial, as is a meticulously coordinated approach between different essential services – which the Cluster approach tackles quite admirably.

Without essential services and the requisite logistical means to be able to deliver the personnel or resources needed to fulfill these, a given area could readily be crippled. The Emergency Response to that area would be equally crippled by a lack of up-to-date information on needs (if telecommunications have been impaired, for example). There is additional complexity with the disasters Pacific island nations face – for example, a volcanic eruption can lead to a disaster on one island in Tonga, create an earthquake affecting the remainder of the island, and lead to a tsunami affecting the other islands. Multiple isolated areas being beset by separate disasters simultaneously would prove an immense challenge in both the Emergency Response and Recovery stages.

The key take-home point: Pacific island nations face several challenges reestablishing essential services following a disaster, and the means to deliver them – but half the work can be tackled in advance with good preparation. Clear plans (e.g. the NEMP for Tonga with the 10 Clusters) take out the guesswork when essential services are impaired or cut off. A good plan leads to a good (or at least, better) response – and a good plan that different agencies, departments and islands are all aware of in advance should make the recovery process that much smoother. Plus, it leads to a great participatory drive and ownership of the DRM cycle, rather than a reliance on a bunch of aid agencies.