5th September 2016



Katunga Girl Aids Fijians Devastated by Cyclone

Tropical Cyclone Winston killed 44 people and destroyed 31,200 homes when it ripped through Fiji in March this year. It was the most severe cyclone to hit the Pacific in modern times.

Emergency response expert and Katunga local, Kate Learmonth, arrived in Suva two weeks after the cyclone hit and was shocked when she saw the affected areas on the main island of Vitu Levu.

“It was amazing to see all of these trees completely stripped of their foliage. It was almost like a bushfire had gone through and all that was left were the tree trunks. There were many houses where only the foundation remained,” she said.

“I was very impressed with how the affected communities that I visited had just got on with cleaning up and salvaging materials to begin rebuilding, despite there still being no electricity, no running water and a big shortage of tents and tarpaulins,” Kate said.

Kate, 33, was sent to Fiji by international emergency response agency RedR Australia which mobilises experts to send into international crises around the globe where they work with RedR’s United Nations partner agencies.

A public health specialist, Kate was deployed to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and played a key role, as a Communications for Development expert, in ensuring those affected by the disaster knew how to protect themselves from the many diseases that can spread after a disaster.

Establishing mechanisms to communicate with disaster-affected communities is a critical form of emergency assistance, as it enables those communities to access information on the help they need, to make informed decisions and to be leaders in their own recovery.

 “Communications with Communities is a two-way process that aims to not only ensure that communities receive valuable and lifesaving information but that they also have the opportunity to give feedback to the agencies assisting them,” Kate explained.

“We worked closely with the Fijian Ministry of Health and Medical Sciences to provide key health and wellbeing messages through both mass media (radio), social media and social mobilization or clinical outreach, as well as through more traditional information channels  such as posters, fliers etc,” she said.

“We spread important messages like ‘boil your drinking water’, ‘wash your hands’ and ‘destroy mosquito breeding sites’, all of which became very important post-emergency as there is a high risk of water and mosquito-borne illnesses at this time and there was a small typhoid outbreak in Fiji.”

Kate and her colleagues put out 123 hours of radio messages about health issues like this and on topics like breastfeeding and nutrition.

“We also put out psychosocial messages to let people know it’s normal to feel sad and distressed after a crisis,” she said.

Kate is back in Katunga for the next fortnight but will return to Fiji on 19th September.

More than a third of Fiji’s population was affected by Tropical Cyclone Winston which hit in March this year. With winds of up to 230kmph gusting at 325kmph, it was one of the worst the country has experienced. More than 50,000 were forced to shelter in evacuation centres in the days after the cyclone as 32,000 homes, 88 health care facilities and 500 schools were damaged. It's estimated that the cyclone caused more than $650 milllion in damage.

RedR Australia received funding from the Australian government and a public appeal to send 10 experts to support Fijians following the cyclone.

 “We have 30 people deployed to 24 countries around the globe right now including three still in Fiji,” RedR Australia spokeswoman Katrina Peach said.

“Our experts include engineers, logisticians, emergency coordinators, child protection and media and communications specialists,” she said.

RedR Australia’s experts support people during natural disasters and conflict. We currently have experts in the field responding to a range of emergencies including drought in Papua New Guinea, famine in Ethiopia, the earthquake recovery in Nepal and conflicts in Palestine and Burundi in Africa.

RedR Australia is a leading international emergency relief agency that provides surge support for United Nations agencies during natural disasters and conflict-induced crises. RedR is a registered charity and receives funding support from the Australian and UK Governments and public donations.

For further information or to interview Kate Learmonth, please contact Katrina Peach:  03 8341 2666 / 0414 684 664 or email