Lepani Penijamini Vunituraga, (second from right), National UN Volunteer, Humanitarian Officer with OCHA Pacific poses with OCHA and WFP team after the Exercises Longreach conducted in Kiribati.
Lepani Penijamini Vunituraga (second from right), national UN Volunteer Humanitarian Affairs Officer, together with OCHA and WFP team members after the Exercises Longreach conducted in Kiribati.

Ensuring effective emergency preparedness and relief response

The equatorial Pacific, particularly Kiribati and Tuvalu, experienced prolonged droughts in 2022 due to low rainfall. Some 94,000 people in Kiribati and 9,200 people in Tuvalu, were in need of humanitarian assistance due to the drought warning conditions, pushing both Kiribati and Tuvalu’s Governments to declare a State of Emergency and appealing to the public to conserve water. Officials also warned citizens against health risks associated with the drought situation. Lepani Penijamini Vunituraga, national UN Volunteer Humanitarian Affairs Officer with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) based in Suva, Fiji, stepped in to support the emergency response in both countries. The goal of OCHA is to assist and support preparedness and response efforts across the 14 Pacific countries and territories covered by OCHA’s Pacific office.

As a Humanitarian Affairs Officer, Lepani’s assignment focused on fostering coordination and liaison with partners in the field, with a special emphasis on the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), the Republic of Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Kiribati and Tuvalu. These countries fall under the purview of OCHA’s Office of the Pacific Islands. He establishes and maintains consistent communication with stakeholders, including Government entities such as the National Disaster Management Offices, UN agencies, and international and national NGOs including Oxfam, the Pacific Island Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (PIANGO), and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

“During the droughts crisis that impacted Kiribati and Tuvalu, I took on the role of focal point for OCHA, facilitating the coordination meetings, engaging with Government officials, and provided essential information and support for the drought household survey that was conducted in Kiribati and Tuvalu to assess the drought's effects on critical areas such as food security, protection, livelihoods, WASH, shelter, and education.” Says Lepani

Lepani traveled to Kiribati and Tuvalu, engaging with key disaster management stakeholders, donors, and partners. He witnessed the resilience and dedication of local NGOs, disaster management offices, and responders which was truly inspiring for him. “The experience of working in complex disasters has been a continuous journey of learning and growth for me.” He shares.

In early 2022, Lepani was also involved in supporting the coordination and information management efforts of OCHA following the Hunga Tonga Hunga Ha'api volcano eruption and tsunami. The disaster impacted the entire country affecting food security (agriculture and fishery), access to safe water, and provision of health care services. In addition, the eruption also severely damaged communication cables, creating challenges in relaying vital information on the impact of the disaster.

This situation necessitated innovative approaches, and as a humanitarian, I quickly learned the importance of thinking outside the box. Through these experiences, I have come to understand that being a humanitarian requires a steadfast commitment to assisting and facilitating timely, tailor-made responses to affected populations, no matter what obstacles we encounter. Ensuring that no one is left behind remains at the core of our humanitarian efforts.-- Says Lepani Vunituraga

“Throughout my tenure, I have been fortunate to witness the dedication of my colleagues and the resilience of the communities we serve. Working together, we strive to make a positive impact and alleviate the suffering of those affected by disasters. As a Humanitarian Affairs Officer, I am honored to be a part of this noble mission and remain committed to making a difference in the lives of those in need.” adds Lepani.

For years, the OCHA Pacific Office has relied on the UNV programme to provide enthusiastic and motivated young professionals to support carrying out its humanitarian mandate. The experience has been very positive as UN Volunteers significantly contributed to the success of assisting people in need throughout the region through their commitment and engagement to support people in distress. We are looking forward to continuing this cooperation.--Peter Krakolinig – OCHA Pacific Office Officer-in-Charge.

Lepani Penijamini Vunituraga (left), national UN Volunteer, Humanitarian Officer with OCHA Pacific inspects the testing of the Bonriki Water Reserve during the drought response, ©️ OCHA Pacific, 2022
Lepani Penijamini Vunituraga (left), national UN Volunteer, Humanitarian Officer with OCHA Pacific inspects the testing of the Bonriki Water Reserve during the drought response, ©️ OCHA Pacific, 2022