The necessity of helping our island neighbours in times of crisis

No doubt you will have seen the footage, or heard people talking about Cyclone Pam and the destruction it has caused in Vanuatu. Whilst the full scale of the damage and the death toll is by no means yet clear, it is now known that Pam was a Category 5 system when it slammed into Vanuatu. As the Category 4 system it was at the time of typing this it is still a hefty system. It packed winds well in excess of 200km/h, torrential rain and a major storm surge. Despite being downgraded it still poses a significant threat to New Zealand. Now as the clean up begins, it is worthwhile looking at why New Zealand needs to look after its island neighbours, especially in times like this.

Some of the reasons are obvious and some not so. Some are political, and some are simply looking out for the well being of islands that have not got the resources to repair themselves after major disasters.

I try to keep politics out of disasters. It is not proper although many nations do, to insert national interests into the recovery of neighbouring countries, but every country, big and small would like to know that the day they have a major disaster where international assistance is not only welcome but necessary, it will come. New Zealand found this out first hand on 22 February 2011. Nations as big as the U.S., China and Japan sent rescue teams with specialist equipment for searching in urban environments, whilst small nations such as Samoa and Tonga fundraised. We got the help we did because New Zealand enjoys a good reputation on the world stage as a responsible nation that is fair minded and generous.

But there are perhaps also more controversial reasons for helping these nations. In part New Zealand is as much reliant on these nations being secure as they are reliant on us being able to intervene if there is a dispute or other event that needs outside intervention. And because we are too small to really affect how issues in places like the Middle East turn out, it seems silly to waste a huge amount of time, money and resources trying to shape the region to something we know it will not be. The Pacific island nations are vulnerable to interference from global powers, including China and the United States. Whilst we have some rapport with the United States, it is hard to know how China would react to small Pacific island nations making a stand – would China slam them with sanctions and make threats about diplomatic relations? Would it raise the issue with Pacific powers such as Australia and New Zealand?

But for the time being the priorities are clear:

  • Establish what assistance Vanuatu needs
  • How bad the damage is
  • What New Zealand can offer in support/can we  work with other nations or co-ordinate it via aid agencies

If you want to contribute to the Red Cross aid appeal for this emergency, go here.

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