After the storm, the deluge

In the wake of Cyclone Pam, Vanuatu needs aid; however it does not need more aid organisations. Citing the Vanuatu government national disaster committee deputy chair, Benjamin Shing, Fairfax New Zealand has reported that there are now more than 100 NGOs and faith-based organisations working on cyclone reconstruction in Vanuatu (all this for a country with a population of just over 250,000 people). Mr Shing is quoted as stating that many of the organisations are working on their own, rather than trying to coordinate with the stretched government disaster response office. As paraphrased by the news report, Shing stated that this has meant “the government had lost valuable time dealing with the agencies and the initial damage assessment would have been completed earlier if this was not the case”.

This situation is not unusual in the wake of natural disasters and in a sense it is encouraging to see people wanting to help, but a highly fragmented aid response alongside a reluctance to work with the government or established local groups is liable to become a major impediment to reconstruction efforts. And the issue is all the more vexing for being another iteration of one of those endlessly recurring problems of international development.

Pointing this out is not the same as saying we should not be giving aid to Vanuatu — we should. But the country needs aid from governments and NGOs with existing long-term working relationships, not clutter caused by well meaning new arrivals. And there is a clear message here for people who want to help: donate to a major NGO that is established in Vanuatu (or join the campaign to stop cuts to the Australian government aid program).


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Terence Wood

Terence Wood is a Fellow at the Development Policy Centre. His research focuses on political governance in Western Melanesia, and Australian and New Zealand aid.


  • Thanks Tess, that’s a good point. And, to be clear, I’m not being critical of established NGOs or donors, but rather what appears to be an influx of well-intended new arrivals who are making everyone else’s job more difficult.

  • Thanks for this Terence, it raises an important point. The government of Vanuatu has subsequently made it clear that Mr Shing’s comments were indeed aimed at the influx of donor agencies, NGOs, etc who had commenced work without coordinating their efforts through the Vanuatu Humanitarian Team (VHT), which is a network of NGOs and other agencies who have invested in supporting the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) for more than 3 years. They are working to support the government (via the NDMO) including by providing coordination of those agencies who do not have the benefit of the established networks and access to local knowledge that the VHT draws on.

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