Tropical Cyclones Judy and Kevin hit the island nation of Vanuatu within 48 hours of each other in early March 2023, in addition to a 6.8 magnitude earthquake. The devastation has been widespread, with housing, infrastructure and roads impacted – amazingly there was no loss of life.
As the cyclones approached, HELPR-1, which was conducting routine health assessements in the outer islands at the time, took shelter in Port Sandwich on Malakula. When it was safe to do so the team immediately switched to conducting rapid needs assessments and clearing debris from critical access roads on as many neighbouring islands that it could get to.
Being flagged in Vanuatu and stationed there full-time, HELPR-1 was the first response vessel to be able to assist the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) to conduct on-ground assessments of critical infrastructure, including island health clinics, power generators, roads, air strips, and wharves.
The HELPR-1 team, consisting of both marine crew and on-board response personnel, cleared over 11kms of access roads in the first few days and reinstated access to health clinics and other buildings, making sure they were safe in the aftermath of the cyclones.
The vessel has its own onboard desalination plant, which allowed it to provide over 20,000 litres of fresh drinking water to desperate villagers. Three 5,000 litre water tanks were transported on the bow of the vessel and offloaded by hand.
Many crops have been destroyed, so over 10 tonnes of rice was delivered to communities in the first week, and this is ongoing.
Enabling the provision of healthcare during times of disaster is critical. With many islands without mains power, HELPR-1 delivered solar panels, technicians and solar-powered fridges to health clinics, to ensure essential medicines and vaccines could be stored safely.
Our onboard full-time medical team assisted the Vanuatu medical assistance team (VanMAT) to conduct health assessments, including providing missed childhood vaccinations and maternal health checkups.
Boats and planes are the main forms of transportation between islands, particularly to the main hospital in Port Vila. HELPR-1 was asked to assist in making an overnight transfer of an elderly patient in need of urgent medical attention to hospital, with onboard care provided by our nursing team.
The HELPR-1 and Respond Global teams have been working closely with the NDMO and Provincial Health Councils, to provide support for the transportation of national and provincial response teams, and delivery of emergency supplies on behalf of a number of global aid agencies.