Less than 48 hours after TC Yasa unlashed its devastation on northern Fiji, a small, two-person team, consisting of the focal point for the restoring family links (RFL) programme of the Fiji Red Cross Society (FRCS) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Protection Coordinator set out from Suva for the most affected areas of Vanua Levu. Their aim was to restore contact between families that were lost, as mobile networks went down due to the destruction of transmission towers.
“We had set up a hotline at the Fiji Red Cross, where people who did not manage to contact their loved ones in the areas hit by TC Yasa could call and leave the contact details of their loved ones so that we could go out to the field trying to find them and restore contact. The hotline rang non-stop from the moment the cyclone had passed through, and we knew quickly that there were hundreds of people anxious to know whether their loved ones are saved and well. We knew, it was urgent to get them the news they were looking for quickly”, said Joseva Ravula, RFL Focal Point of the FRCS.
After having already connected dozens of people with their families the day before, on the early morning of Monday, 21 December, the team went off to Navakasiga in Bua, looking for the parents of Eparama Wavu, who had contacted the Red Cross after learning that they may be able to help him get news from his parents. Navakasiga is far from the main road, and it wasn’t always clear to the team if they would be able to reach, with many villages still being cut off by fallen trees or washed away bridges. After a long drive, they managed to reach Navakasiga and find Eparama’s parents. They told them that their son was anxious to hear from them.
“I woke up yesterday to my phone ringing. It was them, the Red Cross, standing outside the house of my father, speaking at the other end of the line. My heart skipped with excitement, hearing my father’s and mother’s voices, learning that they are safe and well. When I contacted the Fiji Red Cross, I never imagined that they would fulfil my request. But I was wrong. They did it and showed me what “Humanity” truly its. Words fail me”, said Eparama Wavu.
Whilst in Navakasiga, the Red Cross team helped twenty other families contact their loved ones through satellite phones to inform them how they are. In the first five days of the RFL response to TC Yasa, the Red Cross has managed to restore 102 families out of the 108 cases received.
“When disasters strike, families may be separated or lose means to stay in touch. As much as they may need water, food or shelter, for many people the biggest anguish is not knowing if their loved ones are ok”, said Bjorn Rahm, ICRC Protection Coordinator. “Throughout the world, the ICRC and National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies help people separated by disaster, migration or armed conflict to restore contact.”
In Fiji, the ICRC provides training, technical guidance and logistical support to the Fiji Red Cross RFL activities.
“Restoring Family Links has become one of our core activities when responding to natural disasters”, says Ms Ilisapeci Rokotunidau, Director General of the FRCS. “This activity responds directly to the needs of the affected population, and we are happy that we can address this alongside our provision of relief material.”