Since Christmas 6 focal points from the Shifting the Power Coalition partner organisations in Fiji - Fiji Disabled People's Federation, FemLINKpacific and Transcend Oceania have mobilised to carry out a rapid needs’ assessment across the Central, Western and Northern Divisions of Fiji. The aim has been to focus on the specific priorities of some of the most vulnerable and excluded groups, including women with disabilities, LGBTQI communities and rural women. Soon after TC Yasa past, FemLINKpacific rural convenors Fane Lomani and Losana Derenalagi conducted assessments with 125 members of FemLINK’s Rural Women Leaders Community Media Network in Rakiraki, Tavua, Ba, Nadi and Lautoka. While many of women thankfully reported their communities did not sustain serious damage to homes and property compared to TC Winston 2016, many have reported water damage to their food gardens and farms. Food and economic security remain a challenge for those who income has been affected by the closure of the Rakiraki sugar mill, the downturn in sugar cane farming and the impact of COVID19 on the tourism sector and the associated local economy. “It is mango season so people have mangoes to eat” reported one local leader. Others reported that many children are being fed local fruit such as “wi” and avocadoes as their families cannot afford to serve nutritious meals. Families are relying on tea and rice twice a day. Single mothers are unable to provide for their babies and there have been numerous reports of mother feeding their baby tea as they are unable to breastfeed and cannot afford baby milk. Meanwhile, many of the women are playing a greater role as first responders in their communities as leaders of their local Red Cross branch and leaders of the District Council of Social Services (DCOSS) committees. They have joined district Emergency Operation Centres meetings siting alongside government officials drawing on their experiences and lessons learnt from TC Winston (2016) including recommendations from the Women’s Weather Watch network on participation and protections. Most, if not all, are unpaid community volunteers. From community health workers to local club leaders. Several are district advisory councillors. Several have used whatever limited resources they have to top up their mobile phones to send and receive information from their local networks or to hire vehicles to visit affected communities. They strive to be resilient but they are also struggling to support their families, as single mothers, caring for the elderly and their grandchildren, as well as extended family members. For many of the women, being asked what assistance they need has been a welcome relief. That is why they are the first responders who have been consulted, identifying the assistance they need for their families as a result of the Coalition's emergency grant mechanism funded by DFAT's Pacific Women. Disability Inclusive:The initial targeted assessments and distribution coordinated by the Shifting the Power Coalition is providing emergency relief of food, water, hygiene kits and non-food items - to 225 households, including emergency care packages to 50 women with disabilities through FDPF’s Emergency Operations Centre. Following several long days of managing the EOC, Lanieta Tuimabu and Jay Nasilasila conducted the rapid response assessment in the central division and Macuata province. On Saturday 9 January, Lanieta delivered 13 emergency packs to women with disabilities and their caregivers in the villages of Naluwai, Waidracia and Nasavu in the province of Naitasiri. The assessments had identified the need for non-food items such as adult diapers and sanitary pads, as well as bottled water, soaps and food items such as cereal and milk.
Coalition partners continue to emphasize that a Protection with Dignity Approach is vital mow more than ever as communities deal with the impact of TC Yasa and COVID19.In meetings with partners women leaders have an opportunity to share their protection assessments and identify the longer-term recovery recommendations for their communities as many households seek to rebuild post-COVID-19 and TC Yasa. The Coalition partners are also very aware that communities hit by TC Yasa are still struggling with the economic impacts of COVID-19 such as in the farming community of Naleba and the farming community of Naleba, where 25kilomteres from Labasa town Nirmala Sharma considers the steps she and her family need to take to rebuild their home and restore their farm. By 9pm on December 17, her community lost access to power and communications. By 1130pm that night her home which had withstood TC Winston and previous cyclones had been damaged. Her small farm of beehives and vegetables have all been damaged: “We have no vegetables to eat. No proper water supply and are still without electricity” she reports. “I asked the District Officer to ensure all the evacuation centres (ECS) were checked and ready 3 days before TC Yasa. We have seen that there is one female and one male police officer assigned to the ECs,” reports another leader. However, many added that there is a greater need for greater leadership by women in designing and managing evacuation centres. ActionAid Australia’s Executive Director, Michelle Higelin said protection of women’s rights must be central to the cyclone response to avoid a deepening of gender inequality and poverty: “Violence against women and girls increases during humanitarian crises. Women’s protection and leadership must be central to response plans and it is vital that women and girls have access to hygiene supplies and safe shelter,” she said.