By Hanna Butler, IFRC

Located across the Ring of Fire and at the centre of the Pacific cyclone belt is Vanuatu, one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world.

At the frontline of disasters in Vanuatu is Augustin Garae Vanuatu Red Cross’ Disaster Management Coordinator who says being in a disaster-prone country means they are very, very busy.

“Here in Vanuatu, we experience many disasters – volcanic eruptions, cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, storm surges, coastal floods, and landslides.

“In just the last couple of months, our Red Cross team have been working on responses to Cyclone Hola, a flash flood and now the ongoing eruption of Manaro Voui, the volcano on the island of Ambae.”

Disaster response starts with community disaster preparedness

In a country like Vanuatu, the local Red Cross plays a vital role, and by local, Garae, means not just the Red Cross headquarters in the nation’s capital, but the Red Cross volunteers spread across the islands.

“In Ambae our volunteers are from within the affected communities on the island, their disaster response training and skills have been invaluable, they are first on the scene, they know what to do. Vanuatu is spread across hundreds of islands, our geography is challenging and it takes time and resources to get places, but our volunteers are already there and ready to respond.”

Garae says the other misconception is that Red Cross just responds to disasters.

“We are never just waiting to respond to emergencies, we are always working to be prepared – the best response is good preparedness.

“Preparedness is many things – it is making sure people know what to do in an emergency, making sure they understand weather warnings, making sure they have a safe place to evacuate and know what they need to take with them.”

Leaders in disasters and in happiness   

While Vanuatu also leads the world disaster scale, Garae points out it leads another global index. “Vanuatu is often rated as one of the happiest countries in the world!

“While we face a lot of disasters and challenges, we do so with a smile. We are strong, resilient people, with families and communities that work together to get prepared to face disasters together.”