United Nations, the Japan government, and PNG government collaborate to improve tsunami and multi-hazard preparedness plans for COVID-19

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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges to disaster risk reduction, disaster response and planning for safe evacuation from disaster events - including tsunamis.

World Tsunami Day, marked on 5 November each year, promotes a global culture for tsunami awareness, preparedness, and response to build resilience across generations.

Launched by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, World Tsunami Awareness Day was inspired by Japan’s tsunami response expertise in early warning systems, public action and building back better after disaster to reduce future impacts. 

Disaster and tsunami preparedness plans need to be reviewed and updated to address any urgent challenges brought about by current events, including the pandemic. COVID-safe guidelines now include wearing of mask, physical distancing, and hygiene practices in disaster planning.

“The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic has compounded the vulnerability of people to cope against socioeconomic and environmental disasters,” said Dirk Wagener, UNDP Resident Representative.

The pandemic has brought new challenges to disaster preparedness and response with a significant number of students globally, including in Papua New Guinea, continuing to learn from home or alternate locations, there is a growing need to strengthen community preparedness as well.

“With the current pandemic situation, and the restrictions it imposes on travels and public gatherings, it is very necessary to update existing preparedness plans in schools and communities, so people become resilient to tsunamis, pandemics and other hazards whilst observing the ‘niupela pasin’ within their own communities,” he said.

In 2017, supported by the Government of Japan, the United Nations Development Programme Bangkok Regional Hub launched the ‘Partnerships for Strengthening School Preparedness for Tsunamis in the Asia Pacific Region’. Known as the Tsunami Project, the aim is to mitigate impacts of tsunamis by strengthening school preparedness in 18 disaster prone countries in the region.

Papua New Guinea was chosen to action the Tsunami Project with 17 other countries, including: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor Leste, Tonga, Vanuatu, and Vietnam.

The Tsunami Project operates in New Guinea Islands and Southern Regions, in Papua New Guinea. In 2017-18, a total of 3,325 students and community members were trained in tsunami preparedness and response in PNG. During 2019-2021, primary and secondary schools in East New Britain and Milne Bay Provinces, and Sohano Island in Autonomous Region of Bougainville joined the Tsunami Project. In 2019, the Milne Bay Provincial Administration also committed to ensure all schools in the province will conduct tsunami drills and observe World Tsunami Day, annually.

Phase three of the Tsunami Project will build on the impact and lessons learnt to reach the most vulnerable to make risk informed decisions for individual and community preparedness and transform the way disaster preparedness is managed – scaling up and institutionalizing preparedness and response efforts in the ‘new normal’ context.

Due to current Covid-19 restrictions, the project is commemorating World Tsunami Day via official UNDP social media platforms using hashtag handles #TsunamiDay and #OnlyTogether

Funded by the Japanese Government, the Tsunami Project is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme, the National Disaster Centre, National Department of Education and the Port Moresby Geophysical Observatory Branch of the Department of Mineral Policy and Geohazards Management (DMPGM). DMPGM is the State agency responsible for the monitoring and assessment of earthquake and tsunami hazards within the PNG region.

The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction and UNDP in Asia-Pacific are committed to supporting tsunami awareness and preparedness.

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