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Stronger than Winston – Update on Coordinating the International Response in Fiji

At the time of writing, Cyclone Winston has claimed the lives of 36 people in Fiji, many of whom were on outer islands that could only be accessed following the dispatch of Fijian navy vessels. Water shortages and disease outbreaks present the biggest threat to lives in Fiji currently, with many evacuation centres still crowded by people without homes or places to return. It has been estimated that of the approximately 900,000 Fijian citizens, at least 400,000 are living in affected areas.

Graph from the Fijian National Disaster Management Office (25 February) recording Cyclone Wilson’s damage

After making landfall twice in Tonga, Cyclone Winston began its assault on Fiji on Saturday evening, travelling west between the islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.

The capital Suva escaped serious damage but villages along the northern coast of Viti Levu – as well as the south of Vanua Levu – have experienced severe damage and loss of life. Outer islands in the Lomaiviti, Yasawa and Mamanuca groups have experienced the destruction of entire homes, schools and hospitals.

Koro Island, between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, was one of the worst hit. Fijian naval vessels as well as Red Cross vessels with emergency supplies have now arrived on the island, but many areas still remain inaccessible. Roads to Nasau village on the east of the island are still blocked and there are reports that there have been at least five deaths in the village. All houses in the village of Kade on Koro have been destroyed, along with the community hall, school and church.

In the wake of the cyclone, major humanitarian efforts are underway across the affected areas. With the influx of NGOs alongside United Nations (UN) Agencies and the Fijian Government’s relief efforts, it is critical to ensure that the responses of each party are coordinated and avoid double-ups and aid gaps. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) has been committed to reforming traditional responses to international disasters and promoting more coordinated, strategic first responses amongst governments and aid agencies alike.

The Fijian National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) has been coordinating the disaster response efforts since Cyclone Winston made landfall, with assistance from the UNOCHA. The offices are jointly urging aid agencies to make contact with them to ensure that all affected areas are reached and the immediate needs of the population are met. Donations made to the Red Cross, Care and other NGOs are being fed into the NDMO to ensure a central pool of funds is created and distributed according to the most need.

The Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama has urged the international community to ensure that all donations to the relief effort go through the National Disaster Management Office in order to “deliver these funds where they are needed most and ensure they are coordinated at the national level”.

Both the Australian Government and the New Zealand Government are already helping to finance the relief efforts, and have also provided disaster relief specialists to assist the Fijian government.

Map of island groups in Fiji (Image Credit: Wikimedia: Creative Commons)

Disaster preparedness has been a focus of the NDMO for some time, with support from the Australian and New Zealand aid programs, the Red Cross, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, and various UN Agencies. The NDMO has adopted a ‘cluster system’ for disaster management. Clusters comprise a group of organisations working in particular areas of humanitarian action. They are designed to be mobilised in an emergency situation, such as Cyclone Winston. Initial reports would suggest that the clusters have been effective in identifying and appropriately resourcing the humanitarian emergency. The clusters have been operating as follows:


Both main airports and many local airports are now open in FIji, although communication with many affected areas remains difficult due to telecommunications failures. The Red Cross is working primarily in this cluster, with the support of the Australian and New Zealand Government and the NDMO.

Health and Nutrition:

All major hospitals are operating. However, the hospital on Koro Island, one of the worst affected areas, has been completely destroyed. Immediate needs include the deployment of emergency health kits, water purification tablets and the restoration of power to hospitals. The World Health Organisation and the Fijian Ministry of Health are leading this cluster, with support from UNCIEF and UNFPA. The Fijian government has indicated that sufficient medical supplies and staff are already in Fiji and there is no need for additional foreign medical teams.


424 evacuation centres are still active with over 34,000 people taking refuge. Immediate needs include construction materials, temporary shelters and bedding.

Food Security:

There is 100% crop damage in many affected areas, creating immediate threats to food security and Fijian livelihoods. The Ministry of Agriculture – with support from aid agencies – is leading this cluster, with emergency food supplies being dispatched to affected areas.

Safety and Protection:

There is a risk of increased violence towards vulnerable populations in the wake of Cyclone Winston. The Ministry for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation along with UN Women and UNICEF are leading this cluster with support from Habitat for Humanity and other aid agencies.


Restoring schools and universities is a priority in the coming weeks according to the Fijian government, with initial estimates suggesting 97 schools have been damaged or destroyed by the cyclone. The education cluster has undertaken extensive preparedness work outside of emergencies and, as a result, their response so far has been highly efficient. Temporary learning centres have been dispatched to the outer islands, and Save the Children has provided teachers and ‘back to school kits’ to many evacuation centres.

Public Works and Utilities:

Damage to the electricity and water networks are extensive, as well as damage to infrastructure including roads and telecommunications. Restoring these is an immediate priority for the Fijian Government.

Water and Sanitation Hygiene (WASH):

There is an immediate need for WASH supplies in affected areas in order to avoid an outbreak of water borne diseases such as typhoid. This cluster is being largely managed by UNICEF and the Ministry of Health, with support from aid agencies.

Fiji is expected to be in a National State of Emergency until 21 March. Effective coordination of humanitarian efforts over the next month is vital to ensuring that the ongoing effects of Cyclone Winston are minimised, and the wellbeing and livelihoods of the Fijian people are restored as soon as possible

Rachel Nunn is working in the development sector in the Pacific whilst undertaking her Masters in Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development at ANU.

This article can be republished with attribution under a Creative Commons Licence. Please email for more information.

Image credit: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Flickr: Creative Commons)

Please note that this article has been written to provide an overview of the coordinated response to Cyclone Winston in Fiji. It is not written to analyse the effectiveness of the response but rather to provide additional coverage on the coordinated efforts of the key national and international parties.

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