Text messages prepare Vanuatu for drought while recovering from Pam

Oct 30, 2015

Two mobile users receive drought information through the Digicel network (Photo: Vanuatu Department of Local Authority)

A text messaging system which helped communities in Vanuatu recover from the devastation of Tropical Cyclone Pam, is also helping communities to prepare for the next potential drought disaster with the impending El Nino.

To help Tropical Cyclone Pam-affected people keep their food supply safe, two separate pre and post-cyclone campaign Text messages were sent to 90,000 people around Vanuatu.
In the immediate aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Pam, at the request of the Ministry of Climate Change and the Food Security and Agriculture Cluster, people were also asked to respond to a simple survey about their food supply situation. This  helped the Cluster collect data for recovery planning to then guide  government to distribute information and help to the communities most in-need.

Text messaging (or SMS) of updates, hints and advice plus requests for food security information for remote communities, have been part of an ongoing campaign to assist the people of Vanuatu prepare, respond and now recover from Cyclone Pam.

The campaign is being led by the Government of Vanuatu in a public-private sector partnership with Digicel Vanuatu and supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through its Pacific Risk Resilience Programme (PRRP) and other partners.   

Mr. Mark Vurobaravu, Principal Agriculture Officer, Technical, for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development said, “the next stage of the campaign will be sharing information with communities most affected by the cyclone to help with their recovery and build resilience, and including a short text message quiz to test people’s awareness of risk-resilient agriculture.”

“With El Nino looming, it’s important we also include messaging for drought preparedness”, Mr. Vurobaravu said.

He added, “the Food Security and Agriculture Cluster just sent out an SMS, informing farmers and rural communities on the impending drought period and advising them to embark on resilient farming practices such as intercropping, mulching, simple cost effective irrigation techniques, and growing drought tolerant crop varieties.”

“Key food security SMS messages were prepared for crops, livestock, forest and fish sectors and distributed through Digicel networks countrywide,” Mr. Vurobaravu said.  
To supplement the SMS campaign, “The Department of Agriculture has sent out El Nino adaptation messages in print leaflets for key food security crops.”

 “A key agriculture message advice to farmers is to quickly plant three-month crops such as maize, sweet potatoes and vegetables for fast recovery,” Mr. Vurobaravu said.

The Digicel Head of Advertising and Media, Mr. Mike Worsp said “newspapers, and other mainstream media don’t reach about 35 per cent of the country, but many people have a mobile, which make them a very valuable tool in disaster situations”

Prior to the Cyclone Pam campaign, two  other successful climate and disaster-awareness text message quizzes have been held, as a result of the leadership of the Government’s Ministry of Climate Change and the partnership between, Digicel Vanuatu, the UNDP’s Pacific Risk Resilience Programme (PRRP) and the SPC GIZ Coping with Climate Change in the Pacific Region (CCCPIR).

PRRP works with Pacific Island nations and their people to consider the risks they face from climate change and disasters and include those risks in their routine plans for development. Communities can become more resilient to climate change and disasters if the usual routine of government, community and other planning takes these risks into account. This risk governance approach is delivered through a partnership between the UNDP and international non-government organization Live & Learn Environmental Education (LLEE), and supported by the Australian Government. PRRP is being delivered in four countries: Fiji, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.

Contact information

Jone Raqauqau, UNDP PRRP Communications Associate,tel: (679) 330 1976 or jone.raqauqau@undp.org