In the beginning of April, amid the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, a severe tropical cyclone hit, known as Tropical Cyclone Harold, and deeply affected South-Western countries in the Pacific Ocean, namely, Vanuatu, Fiji, the Solomon Islands and Tonga. The natural disaster acutely damaged key infrastructures while also shed light on the contestations of public health and disaster management during the COVID-19 era.
Most importantly though, the combination of the restrictions imposed during the pandemic as well as the impacts of the cyclone had severe implications on the effective running of women’s help and protections centers across all affected countries. In Tonga for example, the surrounding areas and communities of women’s centers and organizations were gravely affected, and one women’s center was even completely destroyed.
This shifted the focus of these women’s organizations towards the survival of local women in these conditions by providing information, offering shelter, food, water, medicine and counseling when and if possible. At the same time, they continue to provide help on domestic violence, sexual assault and incest.
However, their capacity to respond to all of these challenges at once is largely reduced, which undermines their role and effectiveness in the region. There are more supplies, such as sanitary kits, toilet paper, painkillers, and breast milk, that these centers still do not have.
With the aid of UN Women, the ability of these centers to respond to both the pandemic and natural disaster that hit their countries is being reinforced. Yet, there is still substantial room for improvement and for the development of gender-inclusive responses to these disasters.