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Last week as I was writing this column, the full picture of the devastating impact Cyclone Pam had on Vanuatu and surrounding Pacific Nations was still unfolding. My heart goes out to all our family and friends who have been affected.
It’s times like these where it’s heartening to see the students, staff and the wider community come together to show our support and solidarity. As soon as the news of the cyclone came through over the weekend, the Assistant Vice Chancellor (Pasifika), Luamanuvao Winnie Laban, quickly pulled together a core team of people, from the Pacific Students’ Council, VUWSA and the local Vanuatu Community, to help coordinate Vic’s response. Before long, we had a bank account set up, fundraising gig and collection day organised, and our inboxes overflowing with people wanting to help out.
One of the key people involved is Dr Pala Molisa, a Victoria Academic and from Vanuatu, and an active member of the Wellington Vanuatu Community. Pala is a truly amazing person who, despite the devastation at home and chaos of organising fundraising events, was able to see the big picture and highlight how these tragic events have been exacerbated by climate change.
Just over five years ago I was in Copenhagen as a youth delegate at the UN climate negotiations. There, the message was clear that urgent action was needed, otherwise the frequency and severity of devastating cyclones like Cyclone Pam would continue to increase. Fellow youth delegates from low lying islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans warned that if leaders didn’t take action, they were complicit in people dying. World leaders failed to act.
Our government needs to wake up and listen to what our pacific neighbours and climate scientists have been telling us for years—that we need to drastically cut our emissions to prevent the severity of such devastation. The University’s decision last year to divest from fossil fuels is a great sign of leadership and we must continue to push for world leaders to take urgent action.
The effects of this cyclone will take decades to recover from and we must continue work with the local community to ensure that our support gets to the places where it’s needed. This year another round of UN climate negotiations will happen in Paris. It’s crucial that they result in binding action so our friends and family in the Pacific don’t have to go through the devastation Vanuatu is now.