Food Security in the Pacific

When Cyclone Donna hit Vanuatu this year, RedR’s Rowan Dickson was on hand to assist the Ministry of Agriculture to collect accurate data on the impact, analyse it and let donors know the best way to help those affected and, particularly, those most vulnerable to food insecurity.

As a result, wet food rations, tarpaulins and agricultural and fishing equipment  were soon dispatched to local farming and fishing communities in the Torres Islands and a longer term food crisis was averted.

 “When the cyclone was on its way, I was on deployment to the World Food Programme (WFP) in Fiji and working closely with Vanuatu’s local information manager to finalise a data collection form that they could send out after the cyclone hit,” Rowan explained.

“It wasn’t a severe cyclone but had a significant effect on livelihoods and agriculture in the northern part,” he said.

An information manager, Rowan specialises in data collection and analyses and Georgraphical Information Systems (GIS) mapping. GIS maps enable us to connect data with geography so that we can visualize things like how widespread the destruction of food crops may be. The maps can  expose patterns and relationships otherwise hidden in numeric tables and databases and this can  enable quicker and more effective decision making on issues that are time critical in an emergency.

When disaster strikes in the Pacific, coordinating the food security response and ensuring the affected population has access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food falls to a cluster of  humanitarian actors with an interest in ensuring a disaster-affected population is fed. Known as the humanitarian Food Security Cluster, its members include United Nations and national government agencies and local and international non-government organisations.

When a cyclone like Donna strikes, the cluster members collaborate on emergency food security assessments that determine the nature of the response that’s needed.

WFP dispatched Rowan and another GIS specialist to spend a week supporting the  Vanuatu Ministry of Agriculture’s information manager, who was responsible for the initial food security assessment.

 “Essentially, I worked closely with the local information manager on gathering and analysing data on the impact of the cyclone on food security and then using the information to create advocacy documents that were circulated to the food security cluster and their donors including Oxfam and Care. As a result, Vanuatu was able to quickly secure emergency relief items for the impacted farmers in the northern region,” Rowan explained.

“One of the key things I was able to do was increase the local staff’s understanding of the potential for collecting the right data, analysing it and then using it for advocacy,” he said.