(In which I mix metaphors and generally rant. It took awhile to actually publish, though this has been written for months.)
To say that, “This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon,” is to undersell the training involved in a marathon and the scope of a natural disaster. A marathon runner spends months, if not years, training for their activity. The National Disaster Management Office and the people of Vanuatu had one chance to get it right. A marathon lasts a day – one long, physical day. The rebuilding efforts to bring Vanuatu’s food supply, infrastructure and economy back to its previous levels are going to take years.
We are almost seven weeks out from when Cyclone Pam hit Vanuatu. In that time, the media cycle has moved away from Vanuatu to rest briefly with Typhoon Maysak and, as of today, with the earthquake in Nepal. The media needs headlines and news, and I’m not upset that they’ve turned their focus elsewhere because I, too, want to know what’s going on around the world. I hope there are follow up articles about Vanuatu, but it isn’t a lot of hope. The long-term rebuilding isn’t sharp and easy to compress to a few simple words.
The experts who went to Vanuatu to help distribute supplies, provide emergency medical care and fill in a million other small ways are leaving now. They did their jobs, and they seem to have done them well enough. Other experts are starting to analyze the job they did and discuss how to do it better in the future, which is as close to marathon training as disaster response can get. It is a valuable thing for response efforts everywhere. But it doesn’t feed the people of Vanuatu.
That’s where we’re at now. Crops are still months away from maturity and schools are still waiting on materials to rebuild their classrooms. We can’t make this process go faster, but we can make it go smoother.
The second part of this rant was about how I, and you, are not the right people for the job of emergency relief. We can’t replant as well as they can, we can’t build schools or construct watertight houses from bits of leaves and sticks. What we can do is offer support. We can push for tourism to return to the islands that were directly hit and increase on the islands that were less impacted. We can look for exports from Vanuatu and buy now while the sales will have the most impact. We can raise money for local charities and continue donating. We can keep talking about this place and these people and remind the world that the disaster isn’t over.
The first shoots of new greenery have come back to Port Vila. People are rebuilding. People are replanting. But crops take months to grow and schools take years to build. Which is why people talk about a marathon, because this is the part that just doesn’t end. It is going to take years to replace what was lost and more years to return to economic growth. We can’t make the plants grow faster, but we can offer our support throughout the process.