Cyclone Harold and Covid-19: Disaster and Inequality in the Pacific

The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic to our Pacific shores once again brought to light the weakness of public health systems in our region. The reality is that our health systems are not ready for this crisis.

Destruction from Cyclone Harold in Vanuatu, April 2019. Credit: Dr. CristopherBartlett/VCAN/Oxfam
Destruction from Cyclone Harold in Vanuatu, April 2019. Credit: Dr. CristopherBartlett/VCAN/Oxfam
Luganville, Vanuatu: Scenes of destruction from Cyclone Harold which tore through the island nations of Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga and the Solomon Islands in April 2020. A category 5 storm it carried with it wind gust of over 275km/h and up to 18" of rain in parts. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic Oxfam has been responding through local office and partners. Credit: Dr. Cristopher Bartlett/VCAN/Oxfam
Communities in Luganville, Vanuatu affected by Cyclone Harold, May 2020. Credit: Glen Craig/VCAN/Oxfam
Communities in Luganville, Vanuatu affected by Cyclone Harold, May 2020. Credit: Glen Craig/VCAN/Oxfam
Communities in Luganville, Vanuatu affected by Cyclone Harold, May 2020. Credit: Glen Craig/VCAN/Oxfam

Recommendations for building resilience:

1. Invest in stronger health systems

Well-resourced, equitable health systems with a strong and supported workforce are essential to protect us from health security threats, including climate change. Challenges that have strained many national health systems over the past decade will have to be addressed if economies and societies are to be resilient in an age of change.

2. Tackle inequality so that everyone has access to vital services

The ongoing pandemic illustrates how inequality is a major barrier in ensuring the health and well-being of people, and how social and economic inequality manifests in unequal access to healthcare systems.

3. A drastic change of behavior to help the planet

With the global Covid-19 crisis we find ourselves forced to dramatically change our behavior in order to protect ourselves and those around us, to a degree that most of us have never experienced before. This temporary shift of gears could be beneficial to a long-term shift in old behaviors and assumptions, strengthening the public drive for collective action and effective risk management.

4. Ensure stronger social accountability

We must ensure inclusivity, transparency and accountability in allocation and spending in the health sector during the Covid-19 pandemic. In particular, we must increase the share of resources allocated to local level health facilities and community-based services, where support is most needed.

Oxfam is a world-wide development organization that mobilizes the power of people against poverty.

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