Climate Connections: Women First Responders wade through disaster management system:

Sharon Bhagwan Rolls
Posted January 30, 2021 from Fiji

Via Shifting the Power Coalition: 

In gumboots and flip-flops Fane Lomani and Unaisi Bakewa waded through the Tavua flood waters to visit families at local evacuation centres yesterday. Of particular concern were persons with disabilities, women including pregnant mothers and children.  

Unaisi is the local leader of Fiji Disabled Peoples Federation  and Fane is a rural convenor of femLINKpacific who conducted rapid response and emergency pack distribution in Rakiraki, Tavua and Ba collaboration with the Shifting the Power Coalition following TC Yasa. 

According to Fane while radio and social media updates provided weather information for the evacuees many were surprised by the flash flooding of their village on Thursday night. However they had to wait until Friday for the evacuation centre to open, taking their personal belongings including bedding.

A spokesperson of one family told Fane and Una that primary concern is food for the 11 members of the family including 6 children and an 11month old baby.

Crops and vegetable gardens are now submerged in water and as the families remain in the evacuation centre long term food security is a priority says Fane. 

Just over four weeks ago Unaisi Bakewa would walk from her Tavualevu village home to the Tavua Emergency Operations Centre at the District Officer in the small western division town. A representative of the District Council of Social Services (DCOSS) and a member of the Fiji Disabled People's Federation local network as well as the Rainbow Pride Foundation.

A call from the Fiji Disabled Peoples Federation on Thursday night got Unaisi mobilizing assistance in the low-lying areas Tavualevu for persons with disabilities. Unaisi had been watching the water level rise in her area after days of continuous rain brought by the current weather system. 

After contacting the Tavua District Officer - still on TC Yasa deployment in Bua, and learning that there was no evacuation centre open, she organised with the turaga-ni-koro to open the village hall. Many preferred to simply move to higher ground and family homes. She is also aware that there are others in low lying villages who also need evacuation. After finally going to sleep at 130am, she was back on the response before 6am today to organise additional assistance. 

Earlier this month she told the Shifting the Power Coalition that "disaster management should focus on the elderly, disabled and those most vulnerable. There is a need to put a greater focus to reach persons with disabilities to educate them on disaster preparedness as well as reach women in remote communities."

Unaisi is a reminder that disability inclusive disaster response and management requires support for their caregivers as well as ensuring that evacuation procedures take into account the range of disabilities and all evacuation centre facilities are accessible:

"I'm concerned about the lack of disability access in the ECs, (that's why) the DPO members prefer to go to family homes"


PC: Fane Lomani

Comments 3

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Tamarack Verrall
Jan 30
Jan 30

Dear Sharon,
It is so important that we know about these women, and the work that must be kept by all of us as priority, and demanding our governments pay attention and respond. What leaders Unaisi and Fane are! We need an overhaul of the entire world economy so that leaders like this and everyone who needs it, are funded and have everything needed. The world needs to know about the Shifting the Power Coalition and the work that these women do.
Deep sisterhood,

Hello, dear Sharon,

You have been posting about women responders on World Pulse. This is the first time I can see a photo of them. This picture paints a thousand words: women wearing jackets, staying under a shelter, stormy weather, flooded streets, wet people in the background. It looks so familiar. It's the same with us in the Philippines. But above all, my heart is captured by these two brave women leaders. Voices of women with disabilities in disaster-prone areas need to be heard. Their concerns are urgent and important. Thank you, Sharon, and Shifting The Power Coalition for being there for them.

Beth Lacey
Feb 11
Feb 11

These women are she-rosa. It is very impactful to tell their stories.

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